05/20/2008 11:00PM

Meeting opens with purse hikes

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SASKATOON, Saskatchewan - Friday night's eight-race card kicks off the 30-day Marquis Downs meet, and horsemen will be competing for increased purses at almost every level of competition.

There are 22 stakes races on the schedule, and the purse pool going to the top runners is up by 11 percent versus last year. Aside from maiden races for 3-year-olds and up, which remain at their 2007 level of $3,000, purses are up a minimum of 6 percent for the lower claimers while the top claimers run for 19 percent more.

The increases are due in part to revenue from 12 video lottery terminals at the nearby Sports on Tap bar and simulcast center, which, like Marquis Downs, is run by Prairieland Park.

Rick Fior, manager of horse racing, said the purses also have benefited from a slight increase in simulcast wagering and a subsequent larger grant from the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Association.

The Saskatchewan Derby, on Sept.o6, was the biggest beneficiary of the purse hike and has been bumped up by $10,000, to $25,000.

In past seasons, the purses for 11 other stakes races were $6,000, but they will go for $7,500 apiece in 2008. The purses for the Saskatchewan-bred Heritage races, a race for each gender at age 2, 3, and 4 and up, remain at a total of $100,000 for the six events.

The meet's other $25,000 event, the Prairie Lily Sales Stakes, remains at the same purse as last year and will be run Aug. 30.

A pair of riders, Andrew Wright and Christopher Jadoo, join a jockey colony that includes returnees Niam Samaroo, Anderson Stephen, Fazal Razack, Kurt Ragbirsingh, Neville Stevenson, Sheldon Chickeness, Doug Jones, Hector Rabbitskin, Janice Seeseaquasis, David Karn, and Tom Strongarm.

Andy Scarlett and Valentino McBean are expected to round out the ranks in the early weeks of the meet.

Post time is 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays from May 23 until Sept. 6. There will be no racing Aug. 8-9.