04/12/2006 12:00AM

Four tracks begin meets Friday

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Finger Lakes
By Joe Devivo

John Davila Jr. and Chris Englehart, the dominant rider and trainer for the past several years at Finger Lakes, will be prominent again when the western New York track begins its 45th season on Friday afternoon. The 160-day meet, which will run through Nov. 28, features 17 stakes worth an estimated $1.25 million. Davila will be shooting for his fifth consecutive riding title after finishing with 153 winners last season, including the 200th of his career on Nov. 11. Englehart has topped the training standings for three straight seasons and five times overall, including a track-record 136 winners in 2004 and 118 winners last year

River Downs
By Vance Hanson

The idea that less means more is the guiding principle this year at Ohio's three Thoroughbred racetracks, including River Downs in Cincinnati, which opens its 2006 meet Friday. In an effort to increase daily average purses and field size, Ohio's racetracks and the Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association agreed last fall on a compromise to reduce racing dates, an action devised and pushed by Ohio State Racing Commission chairman Norm Barron. River Downs, which raced 119 days in 2005, will race 103 days this year, with the bulk of the date cuts coming from the elimination of Monday racing except on federal holidays.

Hastings
By Randy Goulding

Live racing returns to Hastings, in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Friday. A total of 78 days have been scheduled, five less than last year. The $250,000 Grade 3 British Columbia Derby, Sept. 24, offers the biggest purse at the meet. B.C. Cup Day is set for Aug. 7. Post time for weekends and holidays is the usual 1:25 pm Pacific.Friday cards, which begin July 7 and finish Aug. 25, have been moved to 6:55 pm.

Thistledown
By Chuck Scaravilli

The northern Ohio racing season starts Friday when Thlstledown, in North Randall, begins its 156-day racing season, which ends on Nov. 27. This year the schedule has been reduced by 31 days, which has led to a 20-percent purse increase.The daily average purse distribution has risen from $62,600 to $78,000 and the entries for the first two days average nine horses per race.