04/11/2006 11:00PM

Fewer dates lead to 24 percent overnight purse hike

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NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - The northern Ohio racing season begins Friday when Thistledown opens its 156-day racing season. The meet will continue through Nov. 27.

This year's schedule has been reduced by 31 days from last year, leading to a 24-percent increase in overnight purses from $62,600 to $78,000 a day.

Entries for the first two days of the meet are encouraging. Average field size is nine, an increase of two horses per race over the first two days last year. According to racing secretary Bill Couch, there were 22 ship-in entries for the first two cards, double the number from 2005.

There are 18 stakes scheduled for the meet worth a total of $1,455,000. Ten overnight handicaps will offer total purses of $285,000.

The Grade 2, $350,000 Ohio Derby will be run on July 15. The second and fourth finishers in this year's $6 million Dubai World Cup each raced in the Ohio Derby. Brass Hat, who finished second in the World Cup, won the 2004 Ohio Derby. Magna Graduate, the fourth-place finisher in the World Cup, was second in last year's Ohio Derby.

Jeff Radosevich, the leading trainer here in 2005 with a record 119 winners, is back to defend his title. He finished in a tie for ninth in the national rankings with 169 winners on the year. Radosevich is off to a good start this season and was the top trainer at Mountaineer Race Track this winter. He has a 46-horse stable.

Also back is runner-up Rodney Faulkner, who finished 16th nationally with 144 winners last year. Faulkner has been very successful here over the past three seasons and was the leading trainer in both 2003 and 2004. Faulkner owns most of the horses he trains and was the second-winningest owner here last year behind his father, Joe C. Faulkner, who also is a trainer. Joe C. Faulkner's other two sons, Randy Jo and Ricky, are also trainers in Ohio.

Dale Baird will be regularly shipping in horses from Mountaineer.

Scott Spieth, leading rider here last year, will return. Spieth finished sixth in the national standings last year with 308 winners.

The jockey colony includes Luis Gonzalez, runner-up to Spieth last year, and third-place finisher Ricardo Feliciano.

At a glance

RACING SCHEDULE: 156 days, Fri. through Nov. 27, Thur. through Mon.; No Thursday racing in Sept.

POST TIME: 1:05 P.M. Eastern

HIGHLIGHTS: Grade 2, $350,000 Ohio Derby, July 15

ADMISSIONS: Free

PARKING: General, free; preferred, $2

LOCATION: Ten miles southeast of downtown Cleveland at 21501 Emery Road, North Randall, Ohio

SIMULCASTING: Daily

PHONE: (216) 662-8600

INTERNET: www.thistledown.com