04/21/2017 2:20PM

Meet opens with more runners competing for higher purses

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – It isn’t by accident that the 52-day Hastings meet that begins Sunday has one of the track’s strongest opening-day cards in recent memory. Incentive programs put in place in recent years are beginning to pay off.

According to racing secretary Nichelle Milner, there are more than 100 additional horses stabled on the grounds than were here at this time last year.

Owners bringing new horses to Hastings who ran for $8,000 or more in their last three starts will receive $4,000 after they have raced three times at Hastings. If the horse gets claimed, he still gets the bonus money. The horses have to stay at Hastings for the entire meet, which ends Oct. 22, or their bonuses will be forfeited.

Sitting just outside of Milner’s office in Barn A are 30 mostly new horses brought in by trainer Greg Tracy. The dominant trainer at Northlands Park in the last few years, Tracy should get off to a solid start Sunday. He has a horse entered in all eight races except the second.

Fall at Last, in the first, and Ruffenuff, in race 6, appear to be as certain as death and taxes. Blue Dancer has a shot in the featured $50,000 Swift Thoroughbreds Inaugural, which drew 12 horses, including the Grade 3-winning sprinter Distinctiv Passion.

“There’s no doubt the bonus money is the main reason I’m here,” said Tracy. “The purses are also pretty nice. Plus, I also have 60 head at Northlands, so I keep some of them separated.”

Purses are up roughly 10 percent from last year.

Management at Hastings is hoping the momentum from the past couple of years will continue. Last year, the all-sources live handle was up 5.9 percent. In 2015, the handle was up almost 15 percent.

The meet was supposed to open last Sunday, but due to inclement weather in Vancouver this winter and spring, opening day was moved back a week. Hastings general manager Darren MacDonald is looking forward to getting live racing rolling.

“It’s a relief to see the light at the end of the tunnel after one of the worst winters in decades,” he said. “I am expecting a strong meet. Despite the brutal weather, we ended up with a great opening-day card. With more horses, we should be able to increase our average field size. If we do, our handle should continue to rise.”

Hastings will race again next Sunday and then fall into the normal schedule of Saturdays and Sundays until July 28, when the first of six Friday night cards will be held. Post times for Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays is 1:50 p.m. Pacific. Friday cards will begin at 7 p.m.

There will be non-holiday Monday cards Aug. 21 and Aug. 28 beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6, will replace the traditional Labor Day card. Post time will be 7 p.m.

The Grade 3, $150,000 British Columbia Derby is the highlight of the meet. It will anchor six stakes, including the $100,000 British Columbia Oaks, on Sept. 9.

The B.C. Festival of Racing on Aug. 7 features six stakes headed by the $75,000 Pacific Customs Brokers Classic for 3-year-olds and up.