03/24/2004 12:00AM

Illinois Day moves to Aug. 18


Director of racing Bobby Pace has tinkered with the stakes schedule for Fairmount Park's 78th season of racing, which opens Friday and continues through Sept. 18.

The purse structure at the Collinsville, Ill., track will average over $60,000 per day for the 102-day meet, including Illinois breeders awards.

The biggest change to the stakes schedule is that Illinois Day, the meet's highlight, has been moved forward to Aug. 18. Illinois Day consists of six $35,000-added stakes for Illinois-breds. Illinois Day usually lures a strong group of Chicago-based horses, jockey, and trainers downstate to compete with the best local horses, often resulting in interesting matchups.

Pace has also reintroduced the endurance series of claiming races this year, allowing for a more diverse racing slate.

Joel Santiago was a newcomer to southern Illinois last year when he won the jockey championship and is back this year to defend his title. Ramsey Zimmerman had a productive winter at Tampa Bay Downs and is expected to also do well at this meet. New to the colony in 2004 are Bacarra Rice, Yonis Lasso, and Jose Sanchez Jr.

Jockeys such as Mike Gale, Gary Kurek, Cynthia Medina, Vicente Flores, Gino Velasquez, and Luis Robletto are returning to the fold as well in what should be the toughest jockey race at Fairmount since the retirement of Dave Gall, for years the leading rider, after the 1999 season.

Among trainers, Ralph Martinez has led the Fairmount standings each year since he took over in 2000 from his father, Raul, as head trainer of the powerful Louis O'Brien stable, and this season should be no different.

Steve Manley has expanded his stable to include 60 horses and will be a prominent player, while Ron Brandenburg has retired, leaving younger brother John to handle the stable. Other trainers on the grounds include Thomas Trione Jr., Eddie Essenpreis, Jerry Hammond, Kim Hammond, Frank Randazzo Jr., Leroy Hellman, and Bill Duncan.

At a glance: Fairmount Park

RACING SCHEDULE: 102 days, March 26 through Sept 18.

POST TIME: Tuesdays at 1 p.m. Central; Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Memorial Day, May 25, 1 p.m.; Sunday, July 4, 1 p.m.

ADMISSIONS: General admission, $2.50. Includes grandstand seating and clubhouse entrance

HIGHLIGHTS: Illinois Day, Aug. 18, six $35,000-added stakes for illinois-breds

PARKING: Free general parking

LOCATION: Collinsville Rd., Collinsville, Ill.; a half-mile southwest of I-255, I-55/70 junction


PHONE: (618) 345-4300 or in Missouri call (314) 436-1516

INTERNET: www.fairmountpark.com