10/18/2001 11:00PM

Horsemen's bid to add dates rejected

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Woodbine will run 166 days of live racing next year, the same number scheduled for this year.

The Ontario Racing Commission on Friday approved the dates, requested by the Woodbine Entertainment Group, which operates Woodbine. The requested dates had been contested by the local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

The Woodbine meeting will run from March 29 through Nov. 30.

The HBPA had sought an additional 13 days of racing, arguing that ample purse money is available and that horsemen would prefer to begin racing earlier in March.

Woodbine responded by pointing out that the average field size this year does not support adding racing days next year. The average cited by Woodbinw at the Oct. 11 dates hearing was 7.9 horses per race, an increase of 0.1 over last year, with many allowance and stakes fields being particularly thin.

"Neither WEG nor the HBPA are able to pinpoint the reasons for the small average field size," wrote Stanley Sadinsky, chairman of the commission, in explaining the decision to grant the requested dates. "It may be due to the unwillingness of owners and trainers to enter their horses often, as they prefer to pick their races more carefully and rely on increased earnings due to the substantial size of the purses. On the other hand, it may be due to the way in which stall spaces are allocated by WEG and to the manner in which race conditions are written. The HBPA suggested that insufficient races are being written for Canadian-breds.

"Everyone agrees that it is in the interests of all parties to seek ways to increase the size of the fields. The ORC is also unable to pinpoint the reasons why average field sizes are so small given the size of the horse population being housed on the backstretch at Woodbine. The parties are best able to address this problem with ongoing dialogue and we leave it to them to do so."

The 2002 meeting will follow the same format as this year's, with racing Fridays through Sundays for the first five weeks, Wednesdays added beginning May 1, and Thursday racing commencing June 6.

There also will be racing on five holiday Mondays.

Last chance for turf

Next Sunday's Sky Classic and the River Memories, scheduled for the final day of grass racing here Nov. 4, are the only turf stakes remaining at the meet.

One trainer who will be particularly sorry to see the turf course mothballed is Malcolm Pierce, whose stable leans heavily toward turf runners.

Pierce hopes to pick up some getaway money in the $150,000 Sky Classic, a Grade 2, 1 3/8-mile handicap. His nominees for the race are the 4-year-old colt Silver Axe and the 4-year-old filly Diadella, both owned by Stronach Stables Inc.

Silver Axe, who made the first 10 starts of his career in Southern California, joined Pierce here this spring and finished third in a division of the Connaught Cup in May.

After struggling in four starts between June 10 and Aug. 31, Silver Axe won a 1 1/4-mile off-the-turf allowance Sept. 22 and most recently finished second at the next level.

"His form's come around," said Pierce of Silver Axe. "His last two races have been good. I don't think he liked it during the hot summer."

Diadella, winner of the Grade 2 Canadian here Sept. 9 and then a troubled eighth in the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor in her last start Sept. 30, could try the boys in the Sky Classic, await the $95,000 River Memories, a one-mile race for fillies and mares, or go to Churchill Downs for the

Grade 3, $150,000 Cardinal, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for fillies and mares Nov. 10.

- Numerous Times and Lodge Hill are slated to work over the E.P. Taylor turf course here Monday in preparation for their engagements in Saturday's World Thoroughbred Championships. Numerous Times is scheduled to leave Tuesday and will run in the Mile, with Lodge Hill slated to depart Wednesday. He will run in the Turf.