05/05/2011 9:45AM

Fort Erie all set to open 82-day meet

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FORT ERIE, Ontario – Fort Erie opens its 114th racing season Saturday and has scheduled 82 racing days, ending Tuesday, Nov. 1.

Over 1,000 stall applications have been received, and the horse population continued to expand through April. A total of 77 horses, including seven also-eligibles, were entered for Saturday’s eight-race card.

The two-day opening weekend will be followed by a three-day program, Sunday through Tuesday. First post will be 12:45 p.m., except during the scheduled summer twilight racing program, when post time will be 4 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays, June through August.

Saturday Quarter Horse racing and mixed breed races are on the fall racing schedule.

Rick Cowan, chief operating officer for Fort Erie Racetrack, said he is pleased with the overall plan for the season, particularly the twilight racing, which was well received when inaugurated on Mondays midway through the 2010 meeting.

“Last year the fan’s really appreciated twilight racing, and this year’s schedule will provide them with that racing format through June, July, and August,” Cowan said.

Cowan also said moving the track’s simulcast racing operation to a site within the racetrack’s slots casino has been well received.

The highlight of the meeting is the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, which will take place Sunday, July 17.

Also on the stakes schedule will be the July 4 Rainbow Connection and eight $30,000 Cup races, most of which are restricted to horses who have started at the meeting.

Elissa Blowe, Fort Erie’s media and marketing manager, hasThe track has developed a full season of promotions for the track. Mother’s Day on Sunday is a sold-out dining affair and will be capped off with a carnation giveaway and a jockey autograph session.

Another added attraction will be a Tiki Bar, set up near the finish line to provide refreshment in addition to a close-up look at the horses.

A new face at Fort Erie will be Mike Dimoff, who is taking over as track announcer. A Toronto native, Dimoff, 43, has been calling races for more than 20 years, and his resume includes the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Turf Paradise in Phoenix, Bay Meadows in San Francisco, and Northlands Park in Edmonton.

In addition to his race-calling, Dimoff will publish a daily tip sheet and participate in the scheduled television handicapping shows along with invited guests.

Another welcome addition to the Fort will be handicapper and racing writer Jennifer Morrison, who will set the morning line and host handicapping seminars during the season.

Meanwhile, the rider colony will be one of the most competitive in years.

Led by last year’s leading rider, Krista Carignan, the group will include Francine Villeneuve, who has returned from an injury and will be seeking her 1,000th win this season; Real Simard, who arrived late in the meeting last year and proceeded to ride up a storm; Chris Griffith, a perennial top rider here who has already notched wins at Woodbine this spring; and Martin Ramirez, who returns after several seasons at Woodbine and was a leading rider here in past years.

The Fort Erie turf course has also been completely revampedA complete revamping of the turf course has been completed under the watchful eye of property manager Brian Jabelmann.

That move should be a boost for racing secretary John Whitson and should be well-received by the many horsemen who are looking for turf events.