10/30/2002 1:00AM

Indiana gives new track final go-ahead

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ANDERSON, Ind. - After nine years as Indiana's only racetrack, Hoosier Park will be joined on Dec. 6 by Indianapolis Downs, a dual-breed facility that will conduct a 19-day Standardbred meet and launch a new era in this state's horse racing industry.

At Tuesday's meeting of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission, final approval was given for 2003 racing dates. The schedule will offer expanded opportunities for both Thoroughbred and Standardbred horsemen in the state.

Hoosier Park and Indianapolis Downs, which are located just 45 miles apart, will provide more than 250 days of racing next year. Hoosier is located 25 miles to the northeast of Indianapolis in Anderson; Indianapolis Downs is about 20 miles southeast of the metropolitan area in Shelbyville.

Indianapolis Downs will open up Indiana's 2003 Thoroughbred season with a 30-day meet from April 11 to May 26, running Wednesday through Saturday in April and adding Tuesdays in May. The track will not have racing on Sundays. The track will offer 100 days of Standardbred racing, starting June 3 and continuing through Oct. 18 on a mostly Tuesday-through-Saturday basis.

Hoosier will keep its current Thoroughbred dates and hold a 70-day season from Aug. 29 to Dec. 4. Hoosier's night simulcast signal on Thoroughbreds is popular with bettors and averages over $1 million nightly. The major change in Hoosier's schedule concerns its harness meet, which has been reduced from 90 days to 50 days. The harness meet will begin March 22 and run through May 30. This year's meet ran from ran from April 13 to Aug. 15.

A member of the Churchill Downs group of tracks, Hoosier Park first opened in 1994 for Standardbred racing, with Thoroughbred racing arriving in the following year. Buoyed by a riverboat casino subsidy, the track this year will receive approximately $11 million in funds which goes towards purses, marketing, and breed development. That money will be divided 50-50 in 2003 and on a sliding scale based on purses the following year.

"We're concerned whether the central Indiana market is big enough to support two tracks," said Rick Moore, Hoosier Park's general manager.

It remains to be seen what impact the new track will have on Hoosier's operation. Moore said the track hasn't projected next year's purses, but they may be "down at least a little bit."

"Our goal is to maintain a viable operation, and I think we will remain competitive," Moore added. "It will be a trial period and we'll see how things go."

Hoosier operates three offtrack betting parlors, with locations in South Bend, Merrillville, and downtown Indianapolis. Indianapolis Downs is seeking a parlor in Evansville, near Kentucky's Ellis Park, another Churchill Downs-owned facility.