04/24/2002 11:00PM

More horses ready to run for bigger purses

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Fort Erie will start its 2002 meeting with a flourish Saturday, with 102 runners scheduled to start on the 10-race program.

Last year, 84 horses contested 10 races on opening day. The year before, 71 horses went to the gate for a nine-race program.

The 105-year-old Fort Erie Racetrack had a banner season in 2001. Ontrack wagering jumped more than 10 percent, to $20,212,100, while wagering at offtrack sites on the Fort Erie product climbed 28 percent, to $73,540,917 for the 116-day meeting.

The previous year, the first full season 1,200 slot machines were in operation at the track, wagering had increased by 9 percent ontrack and 37 percent offtrack.

Income from the slots has propelled purse money, attracting more horses, and resulting in more races and more betting opportunities.

In 1998, daily purse distribution, for the fewer than 600 horses on the grounds, was just $50,000. Last year, with 1,100 stalls filled, the daily purse distribution finally averaged out at $170,000 after starting out at $130,000.

Eddie Lynn, Fort Erie's general manager, predicts another boom this year, stating that the slots performed strongly over the winter and that simulcasting revenues also received a boost because three additional offtrack betting outlets were opened in the Niagara peninsula. The result is another raise in the purse structure, to $185,000 a day.

"We had 1,900 stall applications," he said. To accommodate more horses, the track's Barn 12, unused in recent years, has been reopened and should be ready for use "in the next couple of weeks," said Lynn. That will bring the stall capacity to 1,250.

"It's an enviable position to be in, but unfortunately we have 20 trainers on the waiting list. I'm looking forward to a very, very strong season."

Twenty-one stakes worth a total of $19.3 million will be up for grabs. The showpiece on the calendar is the Prince of Wales Stakes, set for July 21. The purse for the Prince of Wales, the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, is $500,000 guaranteed, up from $350,000.

The next richest race, at $250,000, is the Labatt Bison City Stakes. The Bison City, the second leg of Canada's Triple Tiara, is scheduled for Monday, July 1.

The $60,000 Adena Springs Matchmaker on Tuesday, June 11, will be the first stakes of the meeting.

Seven "in-house" stakes, restricted to horses who have started at least twice at the meeting, are on the agenda. The Parnitha, the Centre Stage Anne, the Benburb, the Border Cup, and the Peninsula are worth $60,000 apiece. The Miss Moneypenny and the Bridgeburg go for $55,000.

There also are five stakes events debuting this year - the Blazing Sevens, two divisions of the Juvenile, the Harry Hindmarsh, and the Harry Addison.

Post time daily is 1:05 p.m. for the 118-day meeting, which runs through Nov. 12.

Racing will be held Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays throughout the meet with Tuesdays added beginning May 21. Racing also is scheduled for four Wednesdays during July and August and on Thursday, July 4.

AT A GLANCE

FORT ERIE

RACING SCHEDULE: Saturday, April 27 through Tuesday, Nov. 12. Saturdays through Mondays; Tuesdays beginning May 21; Wednesdays July 17, July 31; Aug. 14, Aug. 28; Thursday, July 4 (118 days)

HIGHLIGHTS: $250,000 Labatt Bison City, July 1; $500,000 Prince of Wales, July 21

POST TIME: 1:05 p.m.

ADMISSION: Free

PARKING: Free general; preferred $3 Cdn ($2 U.S.)

SLOTS: 1,200 machines. Open 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. Monday through Thursday; open continuously from Friday 9 a.m. through Sunday 3 a.m.

LOCATION: 230 Catherine Street, Fort Erie, Ont. Across Niagara River from Buffalo, N.Y.; approximately 90 miles from Toronto, Ont.

PHONE: (905) 871-3200; (800) 295-3770

INTERNET: forterieracing.com