04/13/2005 12:00AM

Indiana Downs opener packed


Large fields are the rule as Indiana Downs begins its third season of racing Friday night.

On Friday's card, the first of 48 for the season that runs through June 18, 11 of the 12 races drew full fields, with 10 having also-eligibles. In all, more than 160 horses appeared on the overnight.

The track's racing secretary, Butch Cook, said he was "cautiously optimistic" that he could maintain large fields throughout the meeting. Purses are up approximately $5,000 per day from 2004 and should average $90,000 per card, according to Cook. The track averaged 8.3 starters per race last year.

On the track, jockey Rodney Prescott is looking to defend his 2004 riding title. Eddie Zuniga and Jose Delgado, who were in the top five in the standings last year, also return. New to the riding colony this year are T.D. Houghton, who currently leads the standings at Tampa Bay Downs, and Lester Knight.

Gary Patrick returns to defend his 2004 training title. The remainder of the top four in last year's standings - Barbara McBride, Kim Hammond, and Joe Martin - are also back.

Three new faces should make for an interesting trainers race, as Gerald Bennett, George Leonard, and Chris Dorris all have stalls at Indiana Downs for the first time.

Indiana Downs has added Tuesday afternoons to its racing schedule this season in an attempt to draw the interest of simulcasting fans across the nation.

Beginning in early May, weather permitting, Cook hopes to card four to five of the 10 races each Tuesday on the turf course. Cook has also written the condition book with an emphasis toward quality racing on Tuesdays.

The track will card three Quarter Horse races every Friday night as well as every other Saturday night.