09/25/2002 11:00PM

Meet opens with higher purses

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EAST BOSTON, Mass. - Suffolk Downs opens its autumn meeting Saturday with purses up 10 percent from the end of the spring meet. The meeting runs for 56 days, ending Dec. 23.

The purse increase comes from a racing bill passed last year. There were two increases earlier in 2002, and more than $3.3 million has been generated by the legislation in the 10 months since it was signed. Track management is hoping this shot in the arm will result in a boost to the bottom line.

"We're enthusiastic about the opening and we're hoping that the increase in purses translates into a meaningful increase in business," said Bob O'Malley, the track's chief operations officer. "The key is the added money has to have an effect on interest in the local product. We're hoping to see some kind of gaming activity [in the legislature] next year, but right now the racing product has an obligation to show that it deserves to be saved."

The bigger purses have lured some old faces back to the Suffolk backside. Ned Allard, a three-time leading trainer during the 1970's and 1980's, will have more horses here than in recent meets, while Tom McCooey will maintain a string here after having moved his operation to Delaware Park several years ago. The increase in purses also is expected to keep several barns that winter at Tampa Bay Downs here longer than in recent years.

They all will be up against perennial training champion Ron Dandy, who was leading trainer at the recently concluded Rockingham Park meet and at the spring meet here. Leading jockeys Joe Hampshire and Winston Thompson are expected to continue their rivalry.

In the opening-day feature, the $30,000 Highland Happening for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf, Allard has entered The Goddess Athird and Weekend Kaper, who would benefit if the race were moved to the main track.

Massachusetts native and recently retired Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron will be honored on opening day. McCarron will be available for autographs and fans will get a commemorative photo of him with a paid admission.

There will be 15 stakes races during the meet. Post time is 12:45 p.m. every day except Breeders' Cup Day, Oct. 26, when first post is 10:15 a.m.

Racing will be held five days a week through Nov. 9, on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. After that, Fridays will be dark through the end of the meet.

This will also be the first meet with account wagering available in the state. Suffolk players can bet through both TVG and XpressBet.