04/11/2006 11:00PM

Higher purses at a meet with fewer dates

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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.

The effect of the date reduction is already evident in the purses available in the first condition book. Open maiden special weights that went for $8,500 at the beginning of the 2005 meet are now worth $10,000. Open first-level allowances that were $9,300 are now worth $10,600. Purses for Ohio-bred races, which are traditionally higher than for open races, have also risen.

"I think this will be a great benefit to horsemen, bettors, and everyone involved," said track spokesman John Englehardt.

Money for stakes is up from $755,000 to $780,000. Trimmed from the schedule this year were the Ms. Southern Ohio and the Buckeye Native, statebred stakes that typically attracted soft fields due to a provision that entrants be Ohio-sired. Otherwise, the schedule is little changed from last year.

The highlights of the meet once again will be the $200,000 Cradle Stakes for 2-year-olds on Labor Day, Sept. 4, and the $100,000 Bassinet Stakes for 2-year-old fillies on Sept. 2. The $100,000 Queen City Oaks is the richest restricted stakes of the meet, and will be run on July 22. The eight remaining stakes are all statebred events, six of which are on turf.

River Downs will once again race in a 7&7 alternating format with Thistledown four days a week, and race a full card every Tuesday. A 7&7 with Beulah Park will occur on April 22.

New this season is track announcer Jason Beem, 25, formerly the backup announcer at Portland Meadows. Beem succeeds Brian deJong, who, as simulcast coordinator at Beulah Park near Columbus, decided to stay closer to home this summer.

* Jockey Perry Ouzts, injured in spill at Turfway Park in January, will be back riding soon, but will miss the opening-day card at River for the first time in 33 years.

* An ontrack handicapping contest called "In The Money," which has a $1,000 guaranteed pool, will be held on the last Saturday of each month.

At a glance

RACING SCHEDULE: 103 days; Fri. through Sept. 4. Dark Mon. and Wed., except May 29, May 31, July 3, and Sept. 4. Dark April 16

POST TIME: 1:05 p.m. Eastern

HIGHLIGHTS: $200,000 Cradle Stakes, Sept. 4; $100,000 Bassinet Stakes, Sept. 2

ADMISSIONS: General, free

SEATING: Grandstand, free; clubhouse, $3

PARKING: General, free; preferred, $3

LOCATION: 6301 Kellogg Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio 45320

SIMULCASTING: Daily.

PHONE: (513) 232-8000

INTERNET: www.riverdowns.com