01/07/2010 12:00AM

Less competition should help handle

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Beulah Park begins its 70-day winter/spring meet Saturday with the same cast of characters as last fall but with a renewed sense optimism. Mountaineer Racetrack in nearby West Virginia will be closed for January and February this year and Turfway Park is racing a reduced three-day-a-week schedule. Beulah's horse population should benefit and management is hoping that its average starters per race will increase from the already good 9.48 of the fall meet. On the opening day eight-race card, 17 of the 109 horses entered last ran at Mountaineer.

The full fields in the fall helped increase handle by 41 percent over the corresponding 2008 meet, which averaged 8.2 starters per race, according to Dave Basler, executive director of the Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

"The horsemen's purse account is in the best shape it has been in the past 10 years," Basler said.

Beulah should also be helped by the fact that Tampa Bay Downs is not running on Mondays and Tuesdays this year. Beulah officials hope wagering will increase on those days because the track will be facing less competition.

Beulah is reinstating the Fortune 6, which was not offered last fall. The Fortune 6 is a 25-cent wager in which a bettor must hold the sole winning ticket to claim the jackpot. When Beulah first began offering the bet in 2006, it had a $25,000 guarantee. The guarantee was lowered to $10,000 and then to $5,000 after the jackpot was hit several times before the carryover reached the guaranteed amount, meaning the track had to pay the difference. This year the guarantee will be $2,500. The Fortune 6 paid out $364,589.50 on Jan. 30, 2007, the largest payout ever for a wager less than $1.

Of the four stakes at the meet, three are for statebreds.

The Ohio supplements to overnight purses will drop this meet and some races have reduced purses, according to Ed Vomacka, Beulah's racing secretary.

"Due to declining revenues the statebred funds are down," he said. "Added money for statebred horses has been reduced in all races."

Material was added to the dirt racing surface after the fall meet concluded Dec. 23, according to Vomacka, who said he is pleased with the track's condition.

"We couldn't do as much as we wanted because of the weather over the break," he said. "The track will be great as long as the temperature remains consistent."

Beulah Park will run five days a week in January and February with Sundays and Thursdays dark. Racing will be four days a week in March and the first two weeks of April, when Fridays are dropped. Beulah will run three days a week the final two weeks of the meet, which concludes on Kentucky Derby Day, May 1.