02/28/2010 12:00AM

Mountaineer's winter break coming to an end


After racing year-round for decades, Mountaineer Racetrack is doing things a little differently in 2010. Dark for two months during the harshest part of winter when cancellations because of severe weather were commonplace, Mountaineer reopens Monday night with a 10-race card that drew at least nine runners in nine of the races.

The racetrack, casino, and hotel resort, located just across the Ohio River from neighboring East Liverpool, Ohio, and about 30 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, has had to make cutbacks to cope with declining revenue from slots and table games. Whereas local horsemen originally received 14 percent of slot revenue in purses, the state of West Virginia reduced that to 8 percent, which translates to roughly $11 million less a year in available purse money.

Revenue from table games, added in 2007, produces just 2.5 percent for purses.

Although overnight purses will average $130,000, the same level as the end of the 2009 meet in December and a far cry from the $1,800 per race that $1,500 claimers competed for before Mountaineer became the first track to offer slots in 1994, that number represents the lowest levels the West Virginia panhandle track has offered since 2000. Two years ago, overnight purses averaged $143,546. In 2005, Mountaineer paid out an average of $151,642 in daily purses.

Purses took an across-the-board 10-percent cut last April. To avoid further cuts this year, horsemen negotiated a new three-year contract in late December that calls for a reduction in stakes. As a result, Mountaineer eliminated eight $75,000 stakes, a savings of $600,000 that can be shifted into overnight purses.

Nine of the season's 20 stakes, all worth a minimum of $75,000, will be contested on Saturday, Aug. 7, the date of the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby. All but three of the remaining stakes will be bunched on Memorial Day; Saturday, July 3; and Labor Day.

Deshawn Parker, the track's leading rider each of the past two seasons, has mounts in nine races opening night, including Runzen in the featured ninth race, a 5 1/2-furlong allowance sprint for 3-year-old fillies who have never won two races.

Doug Shanyfelt, whose 93 wins led the 2009 trainer standings, will send out the 9-year-old Access the City, a 10-time winner, in the sixth race, and the 3-year-old filly Purely Fancy in the eighth race on opening night.