04/18/2016 10:16AM

Indiana Grand opens 120-day meet with solid purses


Indiana Grand Racing & Casino in Shelbyville opens a 120-day meet Tuesday looking stronger and stronger among second-tier Midwestern racetracks.

With Illinois racing still reeling and Prairie Meadows in Iowa just trying to hold the status quo, the niche Indiana Grand has carved since harness racing moved exclusively to Hoosier Park and Indiana Grand became the state’s sole Thoroughbred track in 2013 has only grown wider in the regional marketplace.

Field size during the 2015 meet ticked up to 8.5 starters per race from 8.15 starters per race in 2014, slots-infused purses are steady and solid (open maiden special weight races go for $32,000 compared with $19,000 at Hawthorne this spring), and Indiana Grand, situated within comfortable shipping distance from Kentucky and Illinois, will continue to attract a steady stream of out-of-state stock to supplement a larger ontrack equine population this year. Indiana Grand built a Quarter Horse barn during its offseason and now has 80 more stalls for Thoroughbreds during its mixed meet.

New rules put in place since the executive directorship of the state racing commission changed last year make things simpler for the shippers this year. Ship-ins now can be stabled in regular barns rather than going to the receiving barn, and horses now need to be on the grounds only five hours before they start rather than at 8 a.m.

Indiana Grand races four days per week – Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday – for most of its meet but adds Thursday cards from July 7 through Aug. 25. Post time is 6:05 p.m. Eastern on Saturdays and 2:05 p.m. on other race days.

Average daily overnight purses were about $220,000 last year and will be the same this season, according to director of racing and racing secretary Kevin Greely. Twenty Indiana-bred stakes purses were raised from $85,000 to $100,000, but otherwise, the stakes schedule is the same as in 2015. The track’s most important races, the Indiana Derby and Indiana Oaks, were shifted from their traditional October date to July last year and will keep that spot on the calendar, with the Indiana Derby card scheduled for Saturday, July 16.

A construction project limited the number of turf races Indiana Grand ran in 2014 to 141; last summer, it was a crazy spell of wet weather that kept it to 158. Greeley cards no turf races for the meet’s first month, allowing the course to mature, but with better weather, the track will race more often on turf this season.

Results have been steadily less predictable to Indiana Grand bettors over the last three years, with the percentage of winning favorites moving from 38 to 37 to 35 from 2013 to 2015.

All the leading stables from 2015 will race regularly again at the 2016 meet, and Tom Amoss, the leading trainer at Indiana Grand from 2011 through 2014, has stalls again after a one-year absence. Albin Jimenez won the 2015 riding title, while Richard Eramia, usually based in Louisiana, has a bevy of mounts on the opening-day card. That 10-race program has 101 entrants, a good start to what should be another solid season of racing at Indiana Grand.