08/17/2006 12:00AM

Fewer dates expected for 2007


FORT ERIE, Ontario - With slots revenue down some 25 percent this year, Fort Erie racing for 2007 is in for a revamp.

Approximately 75 percent of the purse account is bankrolled by the 1,200 slot machines in the adjoining casino.

In 2005, the $13 million in the purse account translated to a daily purse distribution of just under $130,000. This year, with approximately $9.5 million slated for purses, the daily distribution has dropped to $120,000.

Fort Erie reacted to the revenue reduction by making cuts in stakes races and reducing the number of races in the allowance and higher claiming categories. At the same time, the purses were hiked significantly at the bottom claiming levels. More than three-quarters of the races are at the $12,500 level or lower.

According to Nick Coukos, executive director of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association of Ontario, the organization will lay out its proposal for the 2007 season within two weeks. The HPBA does the negotiating with Nordic Gaming, the track's owner.

"No horsemen's organization wants to cut live racing," Coukos said. "Unfortunately we have to face the economic times. We have to make adjustments and maximize our racing opportunities."

Coukos lays a major part of the current woes on the Internet and the mushrooming effect it has had the past three years, not only on horse racing but on gaming.

"People no longer leave their homes like before [to gamble]," he said. "We're trying to balance that."

The HBPA is loath to slash purses by 25 or 30 percent in order to maintain the present schedule of 104 racing dates, said Coukos. Those levels might not attract horsemen, and could make it harder for owners to turn a profit.

"We understand there will have to be a reduction in the number of races offered over the year," said Coukos. "We are very strong in maintaining the season we have in place right now, approximately Kentucky Derby Day to Halloween."

Obviously, live days will have to be given up. But the number of races offered per day will increase.

Harvest Singing and Dionne head Buffalo Cup

In Saturday's $30,000 Buffalo Cup, which is being run as a $10,000 starter allowance, Harvest Singing heads a seven-horse field.

Harvest Singing, a three-time winner at the meet, will be ridden by Monique Dionne, who seeks her second straight Cup victory. She was aboard Cold War, the winner of the Peace Bridge Cup here last Sunday.

In that race, Dionne came off the bench to replace Regina Sealock, who was injured in the race prior to the Cup.

Sealock, the regular rider for Cold War, was galloping out following the sixth race after her mount, Irish Dove, had finished out of the money. Irish Dove ducked from under her, and Sealock instinctively landed on her feet with most of her weight on her left heel. The heel hit the hard turf and fractured in three places. A cast is to remain in place for two months.