08/18/2008 11:00PM

A hot spot for horsemen


It's getting crowded at Remington Park.

An improved purse structure over the past couple of years has led to increased demand from horsemen and prompted Remington to build two new 76-stall barns for its 20th season of racing that begins Thursday night in Oklahoma City.

The expanded stable area is overflowing due to the success of Remington's casino that opened in November 2005. The gaming has helped Remington raise purses to a record $208,000 a day this meet, up from $185,500 a card in 2007.

"Our future has never looked so bright," said Scott Wells, general manager of Remington.

Remington houses 700 electronic gaming machines on the second floor of its grandstand, up from 650 in 2007. Wells said they are on pace to provide more than $20 million in purses for Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses this year, compared with $18 million in 2007.

The success has made Remington, which will race 67 dates through Dec. 14, an attractive spot for horsemen. Trainers Brandon Jenkins, Justin Evans, Danny Pish, and Mac Robertson are among those who are new to the meet. They join an established list of horsemen that includes defending training champ Steve Asmussen, Bret Calhoun, and Donnie Von Hemel. The riding colony will include perennial leader Cliff Berry, Eddie Martin Jr., Ken Tohill, Dylan Williams, and the comebacking Cindy Murphy, who formerly rode as Cindy Noll.

"If the work tab and stakes nominations are any indication, I think our quality is going to be the best we've seen since I've been here," said Fred Hutton, Remington's longtime racing secretary. "From what I've looked at on stall applications, there's no question the quality is going to be through the roof this meet."

Because there are more high-end horses on the grounds, Hutton plans to card overnight handicaps for the first time since he has been at Remington. He also expects field size will remain strong. Hutton said Remington averaged 9.3 starters per race in 2007.

The goal of maintaining one of the largest field size averages in North America would seem to be within reach because Remington's backstretch now houses 1,428 horses versus 1,276 in 2007. There are also 50 stables on a waiting list to get on the grounds.

"We hope the field size and quality grab everybody's attention," said Hutton.

This year, Remington is starting a few weeks later than last season and as a result it will run deeper into December.

"We delayed our start a little bit to leave out the hot days of August and to give horses coming from Lone Star a little more time to catch their breath and reload," said Wells.

Lone Star Park, near Dallas, closed on July 27. Both that track and Remington are owned by Magna Entertainment, and Wells confirmed that Remington, like a number of Magna properties, is for sale. However, he said there are no active negotiations regarding the track at this time.

Remington is, however, negotiating to have its richest race, the $300,000 Oklahoma Derby, broadcast on the local CBS affiliate this year, Wells said. The 1 1/8-mile race will share a card with three other stakes on Oct. 19. The purses for that card will top $575,000.

Other top stakes making up the 30-race, $2.1 million stakes calendar include the $150,000 DeBartolo Memorial Breeders' Cup on Sept. 1, which is the date the track turns 20, and the $535,000 Oklahoma Classics Day program of restricted stakes Sept. 27.

The stakes program begins Friday night, with the $50,000 Ponca City for 3-year-old fillies. Remington also has stakes scheduled for Saturday night and Sunday.