11/01/2005 12:00AM

Handle and purses both increase

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EDMONTON, Alberta - Halting a trend of recent years, the 2005 Thoroughbred season at Northlands Park enjoyed an increase of nearly 3 percent in total handle.

The 72-day meet saw a total of $20,821,859 wagered from all sources on Northlands races, compared to $20,249,751 for the same number of days in 2004. This year's daily average worked out to $289,192.

Enhanced by revenue from more than 500 ontrack slot machines, purses reached an all-time high. A record $8,767,665 was paid out in purses, with no stakes worth less than $50,000 and the Canadian Derby worth a record $300,000.

And the future of racing in the province looks brighter than in many years with a one-mile track in the works north of the Calgary International Airport and the Northlands board of directors approving in principle a $21 million track expansion from five furlongs to seven furlongs. The Thoroughbred track here would enclose a harness course.

"A better facility means better racing," said trainer Stuart Simon. "It brings better horses and more riders. I think everybody in Alberta would be forced to raise the bar on their stock in order to be competitive with an influx of new stables."

Jockey Rickey Walcott, with 95 victories, ended the five-year reign of Barbados compatriot Quincy Welch, who was second with 75 wins followed by Stephan Heiler with 30. Welch missed a total of 20 days. Walcott dominated in the stakes department with 11 wins.

Trainer Red Smith saddled 37 winners, seven more than runner-up Ron Grieves. Pam McDougall was third with 26.