02/29/2012 3:37PM

Mountaineer begins 210-day meet with a reduced stakes schedule


The Internet address for Mountaineer Racetrack has changed to “MoreatMountaineer.com.” That description doesn’t describe the 2012 stakes schedule, however.

The track in West Virginia’s northern panhandle, which opens for its 62nd season Friday night, has trimmed $255,000 devoted to stakes and will offer just 13 added-money events in 2012, six fewer than last year.

Rosemary Williams, Mountaineer’s director of racing, said that in order to comply with an agreement with local horsemen, supported by newly elected HBPA president John Baird, the track cannot devote more than 6 percent of the previous year’s purse money, not counting stakes, towards stakes in the coming season.

Nine of the stakes are packaged into a blockbuster program on Aug. 4, the lone afternoon card of the season (2 p.m. Eastern first post). Led by the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby at 1 1/8 miles, the Saturday spectacular will also include the West Virginia Governor’s Stakes, which received a $75,000 purse boost to $200,000. The remaining seven undercard stakes got bumped up $15,000 apiece and will be each worth $100,000.

Williams said Mountaineer hopes to entice better horses to the Governor’s, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds and up, by raising the purse and perhaps garner Grade 3 status for either that race or one of the other $100,000 undercard events.

Gone are six stakes worth $75,000 apiece, including holiday doubleheaders on Memorial Day and Labor Day, and the Dale Baird Memorial, a six-furlong sprint named in honor of racing’s career leader in wins.

The overnight purse structure remains intact from 2011. In the first condition book, for example, open allowance horses will race for a $33,700 purse, the same as last year. Maiden special weight purses remain at $17,600 with the bottom purse for $5,000 maiden claimers steady at $7,400.

Friday night’s 10-race card marks the return to West Virginia of Deshawn Parker, the leading rider in North America each of the past two seasons. Parker, 41, who spent the start of 2012 riding at Tampa Bay Downs, has mounts in nine races, including the featured “Welcome Back Dash,” a five-furlong allowance (race 9) that attracted a field of seven.

Parker will be aboard Tend, the even-money favorite on the track’s morning line. The 7-year-old Tend, trained by Joe Woodard, was a two-time stakes winner in 2011, including the Senator Robert Byrd on West Virginia Derby Day. He comes off a neck defeat going 6 1/2 furlongs on Polytrack in the Forego at Turfway Park.

Mountaineer will race 210 days – the same as in 2011– racing Friday through Tuesday through Dec. 21 with first post time 7 p.m. Eastern. As a resort destination, the facility includes a hotel and lodge with more than 350 rooms, entertainment, and a casino featuring more than 2,500 slot machines, along with table games and a daily poker tournament.