04/28/2009 11:00PM

Meet now has show all by itself


Northlands Park opens its 96-day meet on Friday, and for the first time will host the entire live major racing season in Alberta. Closing day is Oct. 25.

Traditionally, Stampede Park, in Calgary, held the spring dates. Between the two tracks 111 days were scheduled in 2008, 61 of which were run at Northlands.

The reason for the change is that a proposed one-mile track in Balzac, a suburb of Calgary, has not been completed in time to hold a live race meet. When the operators of the proposed track, the United Horsemen of Alberta, were given the dates, Stampede Park made renovations to the site that didn't include horse racing.

According to David Reid, chairman of Horse Racing Alberta, the reasons for the delay are twofold.

"First there was a political issue regarding water rights," he said. "Then the economy took a turn for the worse. They have done a lot of work on the infrastructure, and we are awaiting an announcement about their construction plans in the next few weeks."

Many horsemen in Alberta question whether the proposed track will ever be built. Mat Monaco, manager of the Alberta Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, is looking for a definitive answer from the United Horsemen of Alberta.

"We are all behind the project," said Monaco. "But we need clarity in order to invest in the future. If it isn't going to happen, we need to proceed with other plans."

Calls to the United Horsemen of Alberta were not returned.

The daily purse average at Northlands will be $92,000 a day, the same as last year. The total purse money distributed in Alberta, however, will be down by roughly 14 percent.

The main reason for the drop is that slot-machine revenue from Stampede Park was cut off on March 31. The Grade 3, $300,000 Canadian Derby on Aug. 22 headlines 40 stakes races worth $2.37 million.

Northlands is the northernmost racetrack in North America. Because of the severe winter conditions in Edmonton, which curtail training, all races during first two weeks of the meet have been written at 3 1/2 furlongs. Jason Teague, who is the new racing secretary, said he will try and fill some of those races at six furlongs next weekend.

Headlining the opening-day card is a $22,000 claiming race for fillies and mares that drew six horses.

Excessive B and B has been training at Fairplex Park in Southern California and could have a fitness advantage. She is trained by Gordon Amthor and will be ridden by Shannon Beauregard.