02/27/2013 2:02PM

Mountaineer opening with richer purses gathering big fields


Full fields of horses will be competing for bigger purses when Mountaineer Racetrack opens for its 63rd season Friday night.

The track in West Virginia’s northwest panhandle has raised overnight purses 10 percent for 2013. Horsemen flooded the entry boxes, with all but two races among the 18 that will be offered on Friday and Saturday nights booked with full fields of 10.

As examples of the new purse structure, open allowance horses who ran for a purse of $33,700 last year will compete for $37,100. That includes the opening-night feature, the Welcome Back Dash, a five-furlong sprint that goes as race 8.

Maiden special weight purses climbed from $17,600 to $19,400 and bottom-level $5,000 maiden claimers will run for $8,100, up from $7,400 a year ago.

The 13-race stakes package from 2013 returns intact. Nine of the stakes are packaged into a blockbuster program on Aug. 3, 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 $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s Stakes for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/16 miles and seven undercard stakes worth $100,000 apiece.

In one other notable change, Mountaineer will offer nine-race cards through September, and then add a 10th race from October through December. The altered format is in response to the horse population, which seems to increase in the fall.

Mountaineer and its casino, located about an hour from Pittsburgh and two hours from Columbus, Ohio, will face new competition for gambling dollars. Hollywood Casino in Columbus – the largest casino in the state – opened last October. There has been casino gambling in Pittsburgh since the Rivers casino opened downtown in 2009.

Friday’s nine-race card will see the return to West Virginia of Deshawn Parker. The leading rider in North America in 2010 and 2011, Parker finished fourth with 306 wins last season behind Russell Baze, Ramon Dominguez, and Javier Castellano. Parker, 42, has been riding at Tampa Bay Downs, where the weather was warm but he was a chilly 5 for 96.

Parker has mounts in six races, including Voodoo Storm for high-percentage trainer Joe Woodard in the feature. Voodoo Storm comes off a win in a second-level optional $40,000 claimer at Turfway Park, but is 0 for 5 lifetime on dirt.

The morning-line favorite in the feature is Time for a Winner, from the barn of Mountaineer’s 2012 leading trainer, Doug Shanyfelt. Time for a Winner has won 3 of his last 5 starts dating back to November.