07/24/2007 12:00AM

Fewer stakes, lower purses for fall meet


Laurel Park in Maryland will distribute $3.29 million in stakes purses during this fall's 68-day meet, which begins Sept. 5, a sharp reduction from the $4.73 million that was distributed last year during the same meet, according to a stakes schedule that was approved by the Maryland Racing Commission on Tuesday.

Laurel Park reached an agreement with its horsemen last month to reduce purses for the fall meet, citing a projected $3 million shortfall in the purse fund. The track will hold 32 stakes during the fall meet, compared with 43 stakes during the fall meet last year.

Taking the biggest hit on the fall meet calendar is the Nov. 14 card, when Laurel will run the Grade 1 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash. Last year, the undercard for the Dash featured seven other stakes races, but four of those races have been canceled. The Dash's purse also was reduced by $50,000, to $250,000.

Laurel Park and its sister track, Pimlico Race Course, have struggled financially over the past decade. The track's owner, Magna Entertainment Corp., has lost nearly $400 million over the past five years, and officials for both Magna and the two Maryland tracks have been lobbying for legislation that would allow the tracks to operate slot machines.

The 68-day meet will run four days a week, Wednesday through Saturday, until Dec. 29.

Spared from any purse cuts for the meet are the races that make up the Maryland Million, a 12-race stakes program restricted to Maryland-sired horses that will be held Oct.o13. Those races receive funding from a surcharge on the takeout on bets, and four of the races will have higher purses this year.