06/12/2013 3:48PM

Marquis Downs begins 26-day meeting

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Marquis Downs begins its 2013 meeting Friday evening with an eight-race program that attracted a solid 74 horses.

The card will be the first of 26 this season at the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, racetrack that in recent years has conducted a 30-day meeting.

“We had to lop off four days and axe much of our stakes schedule,” said Rick Fior, manager of racing at Marquis Downs, adding that the cuts were necessary because a $300,000 grant previously supplied by the province was discontinued.

“We’ll be running mostly claiming races and some allowance races,” he said.

Heading the reduced stakes schedule will be the Saskatchewan Derby, the traditional closing-day feature that will be run Sept. 14 with a $20,000 purse.

The Prairie Lily Sales Stakes will exist in a new form as an internet yearling auction was conducted last year, and graduates will be eligible for the Sales Stakes on Sept. 7 with a purse of at least $20,000.

Heritage Stakes Day, featuring $7,500 stakes for 2-year-old and 3-year-old Saskatchewan-breds of each gender, will be held Aug. 24.

Fior said that the current horse population is between 275 and 300. That number will grow, peaking at 400 to 450 as the meet progresses.

“It’s the same status every year,” Fior said. “Horses come in from Northlands and Assiniboia; they help us out. Basically, there’s a flow of horses going back and forth.”

Marquis Downs also is starting out with a jockey colony of 14, headed by last year’s one-two finishers Neville Stephenson and Naim Samaroo.

Tim Moccasin, who rode last year at Assiniboia Downs, has moved his tack back to Saskatchewan, and Krista Carignan, who began riding here in 2006, is resuming her career after hanging up her tack at Fort Erie in summer 2011.

Carignan was Fort Erie’s runaway leading rider, with 93 wins, in 2010.

“It’s probably the strongest group we’ve had in years,” Fior said.

Marquis Downs will race each Friday and Saturday evening, with the exception of Aug. 9 and Aug. 10.

Races are streamed live on marquisdowns.com.