07/26/2005 11:00PM

Handle jump due to post time change

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NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - Thistledown's recent post time change on Fridays has resulted in handle soaring higher than anyone expected.

On May 27, Thistledown and River Downs, which alternate their races under the 7&7 format and sell their combined product as a single simulcast signal, moved their starting Friday post time to 2:30 p.m. Eastern. This didn't work out well for Thistledown, which experienced a significant drop in handle.

On June 17, Thistledown changed its Friday post time to 12:50 p.m. and began running its first four races solo before alternating the final three races of its card with those from River Downs.

Thistledown management made the move because Calder, Belmont, and Arlington all have twilight schedules on Fridays, and by moving its post time forward Thistledown faced less competition.

The result was an instant success, with handle on the first four races of the day going from the $300,000 to $400,000 level to between $500,000 and $850,000. The full-card handle increased about 60 percent, according to Thistledown mutuel director and assistant simulcast coordinator Bob Hickey.

Ready for Roses tops Lewis Memorial

Ready for Roses, who finished a close second in the $75,000 Cleveland Gold Cup, is the one to beat in Friday's $45,000 George Lewis Memorial Stakes. Ready for Roses will face seven rivals in the 1 1/8-mile race for Ohio-breds.

Ready for Roses, a 3-year-old, has posted a 2-2-0 record from six starts this year and just missed getting up in the Cleveland Gold Cup after closing a considerable amount of ground. Trained by Timothy Hamm, he will be ridden by jockey Irwin Rosendo.

Forest Picnic, who has been consistent here this season while posting a 1-2-1 record from five starts, is the main challenger, while Devil Time, the 2003 Ohio horse of the year, should not be overlooked.

Five-week contest begins

Beginning Sunday, Thistledown will host the five-week Thistledown World Series of Handicapping Tournament. Top prize is $5,000 and a paid berth into the 2006 Coast Casinos Horse Players World Series at the Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Four qualifying rounds will be held - July 31 and Aug. 7, 14, 21, and 28 - with the top 10 finishers each week meeting in the Tournament of Champions on Sept. 4. The contest is limited to the first 150 entrants each week and the cost is $100, which will be used as a live bankroll. Bets can be placed on any number of races scheduled between 12:30 and 6 p.m. Eastern. The contestant who has the largest bankroll at the end of the day will receive $1,000. Second place earns $300 and third place $100. All contestants keep any money won.

- additional reporting by Tim Scaravilli