03/28/2002 1:00AM

New deal reached on purses


The Racing Association of Central Iowa, which manages Prairie Meadows Race Track and Casino in Altoona, Iowa, has reached a three-year agreement with horsemen that will set purses for the 2003-2005 seasons at approximately $15 million per year.

Both the Iowa Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents Thoroughbred horsemen, and the Iowa Quarter Horse Racing Association signed the purse contract Wednesday.

The 2002 season, which begins April 26, is the last year of a five-year contract under which purses have escalated each year. Purses for this season are set at $20 million.

Significant pressure has been been placed on the RACI board in recent months from local community and government officials to lower the purse structure at Prairie Meadows because the track's revenue has failed to meet projections.

This year's 98-day Prairie Meadows season is separated into a 53-day Thoroughbred meeting and a 43-day mixed meeting. Details for the 2003 racing season are still to be worked out, but the meet is likely to be shortened to approximately 72 to 78 days of racing, according to Derron Heldt, the track's director of racing. The 2003 season may also be run as one continuous Thorough-bred-Quarter Horse mixed meet.

The exact number of races per program, as well as the split between Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse races has not yet been determined, nor has the fate of the Iowa Festival of Racing, which is the highlight of the Thoroughbred meeting and features six open stakes worth more than a combined $1 million in purses over several days, nor Iowa Classic Night, which is a program with 10 stakes races exclusively for statebreds.