09/23/2003 11:00PM

Full fields should be the norm from start

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PHOENIX - The $21,000 Bienvenidos Stakes is the opening-day feature when Turf Paradise begins its live meet Friday. The 169-day meet runs through May 16, 2004, with live racing conducted five days a week, Friday through Tuesday, with first post set for 12:30 p.m. Pacific.

Full-card simulcasting, a boon to the purse structure here the past few years, is offered seven days a week.

Jerry Simms, in his fourth season as track owner, has high expectations for Thoroughbred racing in Arizona as Turf Paradise kicks off its 47th season.

As an example of the commitment Turf Paradise has made to horsemen in the state, Simms cites the opening of an equine swimming pool.

"The pool was a big hit from the moment we opened it in April," he said. "Horsemen requests were such that we decided to keep it open during the summer. The positive effect will be that we should have more horses race-ready when the meet opens.

"We're also delighted that we had more than 3,500 applications for our 2,200 stalls. That shows you how dedicated this group of horsemen are to the racing here. They are good, hard-working people, and because of them we have a good product and full fields."

Nineteen offtrack betting sites have been added this year, bringing the state total to nearly 70, and there are 900 sites in five countries taking the Turf Paradise signal.

Simms said the turf course has been improved during the off season. "It's one thing to have and make a nice facility, but it's quite another to make sure you have a good, safe racetrack," he said.

Turf Paradise has carded 44 stakes worth over $2.2 million in purses. The meet will be highlighted by Super Saturday on Feb. 7, when three stakes will be run: the $150,000 Turf Paradise Breeders' Cup, $100,000 Turf Paradise Derby, and $75,000 Arizona Oaks.

The track's signature event, the $100,000 Phoenix Gold Cup at six furlongs, will be run March 13.

Turf Paradise will offer $1 exactas for the first time.

Putting out the welcome mat

Friday's aptly named Bienvenidos - Spanish for "welcome" - at a mile on the main track for 3-year-olds and upward lured a field of nine, with favoritism likely to fall to Heightenedinterest. A 5-year-old trained by Justin Evans, Heightenedinterest has won four of his last six races, including the Answer Do here March 28. After losing the Zany Tactics here in April, Heightenedinterest shipped to Yavapai Downs in northern Arizona and went on a roll. He won the Inaugural Handicap, then finished second in the Yavapai Handicap. He'd been sprinting almost exclusively, so when a one-mile allowance race came up for him at Yavapai Aug. 3, Evans decided to see if he could play the route game as well. The answer was a resounding "Yes." Heightenedinterest rallied from well back and won a long stretch duel to win that allowance race. In the Mile Hi Handicap there, at 1 1/16 miles, he pressed the pace and then drew off to win by over four lengths.

O.A. Martinez, aboard for Heightenedinterest's last four starts, keeps the call.

One of the horses who chased Heightenedinterest in those two route wins at Yavapai is back for more. I've Decided, who could do no better than fifth and sixth in those two Yavapai races, takes another shot at Heightenedinterest for trainer Chad Ferguson.