04/06/2006 11:00PM

Mixed views on supplementary fees

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Woodbine's stakes schedule kicks in next weekend, with the $125,000 Jacques Cartier set for Saturday and the $125,000 Whimsical for Sunday.

The Jacques Cartier, a six-furlong race for 4-year-olds and upward, attracted 25 nominees. The Grade 3 Whimsical, a six-furlong race for fillies and mares, 4 and up, lured 23.

But, for the first time, there is a possibility that the entrants for those races could include some names not on those nomination lists.

Woodbine has added a wrinkle to its stakes program this year, allowing supplementary nominations on entry day at a cost of 2 percent of the gross purse.

The only current exceptions are the early-closing stakes, including the Canadian Triple Crown races and the major fall stakes for 2-year-old Canadian-breds.

And, as is inevitable with any change on the racetrack, the supplementary option has not met with universal approval.

"Some of our members have expressed concerns," said Nick Coukos, executive director of the local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. "They'd like to see the penalty in the supplement much higher."

The 2 percent supplement includes the entry fee, which is 1 percent of the gross purse. The nomination fees are set at 0.1 percent of the purse.

Thus, the nomination fee for next weekend's $125,000 races is $125, the entry fee $1,250, and the supplementary fee $2,500.

Chris Evans, Woodbine's vice president of Thoroughbred racing, believes the supplementary option is an idea whose time has come.

"We had supplements on our major races, and there weren't very many," said Evans, citing the Woodbine Mile, Canadian International, and E.P. Taylor. "So we thought, why not apply them basically to all our stakes?

"We suffer when we card four- or five-horse stakes fields, and we're hoping this will be an enticement to get six or seven. With a bigger field, we get better betting.

"If the supplemental fee's too high, it doesn't work - nobody jumps in," Evans said. "If the fee's too low, there's no incentive to nominate."

Some horsemen also have expressed concern that the policy will benefit invaders rather than local horses, but Evans sees things in a different light.

"Weekly, we have trainers here who forget to nominate," said Evans. "And sometimes we get some pretty weak nomination lists. This gives local trainers an option to jump in if the race is coming up light."

Stakes purses now guaranteed

Another fundamental change in the Woodbine stakes program this year will see all stakes purses being guaranteed rather than offering added money.

Evans estimates that nomination and entry fees brought in about $1 million last year, and Woodbine will use this year's take to prop up its stakes program.

The Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society, which contributes to Woodbine's stakes purses, cut its contribution by $508,000 this year and Woodbine is covering that amount.

Woodbine also will use $400,000 to help finance the new Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup Turf, which will offer a guaranteed purse of $700,000, and boosted the Ontario Derby by $50,000 to $200,000.

"Had we stayed with added money, the $125,000 stakes, for example, would have been listed as $100,000 or $110,000 added," said Evans.

"For presentation purposes, leaving the purse at $125,000 guaranteed is preferable to advertising the race at a lower purse."

Pick four takeout raised

The introduction of a 20-cent pick four wagering option may have been welcome news to some Woodbine horseplayers this spring, but there was an unpleasant side effect.

The takeout on the pick four, which had been 14.95 percent, has been hiked to 25 percent. Both figures include a 2 percent levy for horsemen, 0.8 percent for the federal government, and 0.5 percent for the provincial government.

Steve Mitchell, senior vice president and chief financial officer for Woodbine, recalled that the pick four takeout on live racing here had been 26.30 percent before being cut sharply for the beginning of the live meeting in 2003.

"We slashed the pick four takeout as a promotion, in order to rebuild interest in the pool," said Mitchell. "We actually kept it there a lot longer than we'd planned.

"Now that we're getting into more and more common-pooling at U.S. tracks, it seemed like an appropriate time to change it back to something closer to the industry standard."

More common-pool tracks

Woodbine will be common-pooling with three more Thoroughbred racetracks in the United States this month, beginning with Philadelphia Park on Monday.

Lone Star will begin commingling Canadian wagers on April 13, with Pimlico following on April 20.

The takeout here will match Philadelphia Park's in all pools except the trifecta and superfecta.

The takeout for those exotic wagers here will be lower than Philadelphia's, which is 30 percent for those pools. The trifecta takeout at Woodbine will be 28.3 percent, and the superfecta takeout will be 26.3 percent.

Woodbine's takeout will be identical to those in all pools at Lone Star.

For Laurel, the takeout here differs on the pick three and pick four, which will be 25 percent. Laurel offers a 14 percent takeout on those wagers.