03/30/2005 1:00AM

Mild winter helped to fill stalls early


CALGARY, Alberta - Stampede Park will play host to a 47-day meeting this year, and Friday's opening-night program of nine "half-milers" signals the beginning of the 2005 Thoroughbred season in Canada.

The favorable weather conditions here over most of the winter allowed for uninterrupted training schedules, and Stampede Park's racing secretary, Barry McGrath, was rewarded with a strong response at the entry box Tuesday morning. A total of 78 horses were entered.

The 1,180 available stalls are full to begin the meet.

Older fillies and mares hold the spotlight in the featured eighth race, for $22,000 claimers, with Shudabinajumper expected to face serious challenges from Tuktoyaktuk and the speedy Crossing.

A 7-year-old trained by Floyd Arthur, Shudabinajumper will have the services of Quincy Welch, a runaway winner of the 2004 Alberta riding title. Shudabinajumper must overcome the inside post, which is not preferred in four-furlong races at this course.

All races during the first two weeks of the meet are at four furlongs.

Next Wednesday is dark, but after that racing will conducted on a four-day per week basis, with 6 p.m. Mountain post times on Wednesday and Friday and 1 p.m. starts on Saturday and Sunday. The lone holiday card goes at 1 p.m. on Victoria Day, Monday, May 23, with the traditional feature the Ken Pearson Memorial.

The addition of a pair of Sales Stakes on April 16, one for older colts and geldings and the other for their female counterparts, boost the stakes schedule to 14 from the 12 offered last spring. The Sales Stakes were run at Northlands Park last year.

The 75th running of the Alberta Derby on June 18 once again headlines the spring session. The purse for the Alberta Derby has been increased from $100,000 last year to $125,000. The 25 percent increase coincides with increases to $50,000 for 11 other stakes, with $775,000 in total stakes purses offered.

A Shaky Start is the early favorite in the female version of the Sales Stakes, while 2004 Stampede Sprint Championship winner Dance Me Free and the comebacker Tyko Tycoon are among those being pointed towards the male division. The annual Night of Champions awards banquet honoring divisional champions of 2004 is slated for the evening of April 16 at the Roundup Centre on the grounds.

At a glance

* RACING SCHEDULE: 47 days; Friday through June 19. Fridays through Sundays; Wednesdays beginning April 13; Monday, May 23

* HIGHLIGHTS: $125,000 Alberta Derby, June 18

* POST TIME: 6 p.m. Mountain Time Wednesdays and Fridays; 1 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays, and Monday.



* LOCATION: 2300 Stampede Trail S.E., Calgary, Alberta

* PHONE: (403) 261-0214; scratches & results (403) 974-7223

* INTERNET: stampede-park.com