09/30/2005 12:00AM

Lower-level races get purse hike


FORT ERIE, Ontario - Because of declining revenue from slots, the major source of the track's purses, Fort Erie will eliminate some stakes races and most allowance races next year, as well as some high-priced claimers, in order to increase the purses for low-end claiming races.

The new purse structure has been designed to benefit those who are competing at the lower levels of racing, particularly claimers at the $5,000 level. According to trainer Daryl Ezra, who is a member of an advisory committee that recommended the changes to the purse structure, $5,000 claimers make up 60 percent of the present horse population. The purse for the $5,000 level will be raised from $10,000 to $13,000 next year.

The changes in purse structure were made after the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association of Ontario decided to adopt the recommendations put forth by the Fort Erie advisory committee.

"No one wants to go backwards devaluing the product," said Nick Coukos, the executive director of the HBPA. "We are just trying to face reality. Our slots are going from a $350 win per machine [daily] at its height to $170 as forecasted for next year."

Coukos said the $500,000 Prince of Wales and the $250,000 Bison City Stakes would remain untouched on the Fort Erie calendar, but that the other stakes are still under review. The series of Cup races will not be eliminated.

Herb McGuire Sr., the director of operations at Fort Erie, said he believes the higher purses for low-end claimers will help attract more owners to the game.

"The fact is that we are going to have some of the best purses for cheaper Thoroughbreds in North America," said McGirr. "This way, two or three can get together and put in $5,000 apiece and wind up having two or three horses that are racing for decent purses. They would have a good shot at paying their bills and making a few bucks. The other way, I think many were ready to jump out of the business."

Ezra to fill in as announcer

Track announcer Daryl Wells will be representing Fort Erie at a conference for a few days. Filling in for him in the booth on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday will be Ezra.

Before becoming a trainer, Ezra served stints at several locations calling Standardbred races.

"It will be interesting on Monday," said Ezra. "I'll be announcing my own horse. I entered Attonotauto in the 1 3/4-mile race. It's a prep for the Tour de Fort."

Red Dragon, 10, scores

Last Sunday, Ezra got a win with an old favorite, Red Dragon, who became the third 10-year-old to win at the meet.

The other two are Eastern Warlord, who is trained by Dominic Polsinelli, and Rue's Rebel, who is trained by Sandy McPherson.

There are only two 2005 winners at the track who are older than this trio: Major Zee, trained by Mark Fournier, and River Boat, trained by Frank Huarte, are both 12-year-olds.

On Sunday, another oldie will spring into action. My Friend Ben, 7, is the oldest maiden competing in Ontario. He will be making his 47th start. Trained by Gord Davidson, My Friend Ben has been second six times and third four times. Since starting out at age 3, he has earned $34,235.