09/12/2003 11:00PM

Fall meet to feature statebred stakes

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EAST BOSTON, Mass. - With questions regarding the future of racing in New England hovering, Suffolk Downs opens a six-week, 25-day fall meet with an eight-race card Monday.

This year has already been tumultuous. A schedule change prompted by Rockingham Park's decision to forgo its traditional summer Thoroughbred meet in favor of harness racing extended Suffolk's spring meet through the summer. In addition, two votes in the Massachusetts legislature that would have allowed slot machines at the track failed, setting up what should be a make-or-break push during the upcoming lawmaking session.

The Massachusetts Handicap was canceled in June, and now there are questions about when racing will resume next year.

Suffolk officials are attempting to cope as best they can.

"We can look at it like a boutique meet with six weeks of racing with a big finish with the Breeders' Cup," said Bob O'Malley, Suffolk's chief operating officer. "It should be interesting. We hope to stay on the grass as long as we can with a little help from the weather. We have enough horses so the racing should be a lot of fun."

Racing will take place Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays with first post at 12:45 p.m. Weekday cards will have eight races, with nine on Saturday. Post time will be 11 a.m. on Breeders' Cup Day, when seven live races will lead up to the World Thoroughbred Championship simulcasts.

Because of the summer schedule change, all of the money for open stakes races has been drained. Instead there will be a statebred stakes race conducted every Saturday. Regional champions will be decided by the New England Turf Writers early in October, with several local stars trying to cap stellar seasons leading up to the voting.

The usual suspects are expected to contend for human honors, with Ron Dandy trying to extend his streak of nine straight meets as top trainer and Joe Hampshire trying for his sixth straight riding title.

With all of the doubt surrounding racing's future here, an influx of new horses seems unlikely. Many local horses are refreshed from extra time off, while lower-level competitors raced at Northampton Fair.

The fair is expected to provide one of the few new faces in the jockey's room, as Edgar Paucar tries to parlay his surprising Northampton success into a career in Boston. A 28-year-old with an uncanny resemblance to fellow Peruvian Edgar Prado, Paucar burst on the scene to challenge for the Three County Fair title. He had been mostly an exercise rider at Penn National, but improved his stock with several multi-win afternoons, including trips on some of Dandy's fair entrants.

Steven Crist, publisher of Daily Racing From, will be at Suffolk on Oct. 4 to sign copies of his new book, "Betting on Myself." Handicapping contests, including one possibly mixing pro football picks with simulcast races, are also being planned for the meet. Passes for the meet will be available with paid admission throughout the first week of racing.

At a glance: Suffolk Downs

* RACING SCHEDULE: 25 Days; Mon. Tues. Wed. & Sat. Sept. 15 - Oct. 27

* POST TIME: 12:45 Eastern; 11:00 am Oct. 25

* ADMISSIONS: $2 Clubhouse and Grandstand

* PARKING: $4 Valet; $2 Preferred; Free General Parking

* ADDRESS: 111 Waldemar Ave, East Boston, Mass. 02128

* DIRECTIONS: 2 Miles north of Ted William Tunnel and Callahan Tunnel on Rt. 1A

* PHONE: (617) 567-3900

* INTERNET: www.suffolkdowns.com