10/05/2006 11:00PM

New meet brings high-tech touches

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Portland Meadows will open its 60th anniversary season Sunday with enhanced purses, an improved tote board, a new timing system, a new tote provider, a new means of wagering, and a new racing schedule.

The new schedule might be the most dramatic change, as the track will race on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays through February, then switch to racing on Mondays and Tuesdays only until the first Saturday in May, which will close the 78-day meeting. Last year, the track raced on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays throughout the stand.

"We need new sources of revenue, and we feel our best chance to get that is through out-of-state wagering on our races," said the track's general manager, Dwayne Yuzik. "Last year we handled less than $100,000 in out-of-state wagering on Saturdays and Sundays, but more than $300,000 on Mondays. Most of the out-of-state outlets that took our signal did so only on Mondays. We think that most of those outlets will now take our signal on Tuesdays as well, and we are hoping that many of them will go ahead and take us all three days that we run. Our goal is to double the export sales that we did last year. We feel that will more than offset any decline in ontrack wagering that we might experience because we are racing Tuesdays instead of Saturdays."

The new schedule offers one big plus for ontrack players, as they will be betting into much larger pools. They will also have more reliable handicapping information courtesy of the new American Teletimer system that will replace the hand-timing of races that has been in effect here for many years, and they will have what many might consider a more convenient way to wager. Fans will soon be able to check out a hand-held wireless device that will allow them to place their bets from anywhere on the grounds.

"You'll go to a teller and buy a voucher, then you'll put down a deposit and get your wagering terminal," Yuzik explained. "You'll enter your account number and your PIN number, and you'll be ready to go. The device will keep track of your wagers, and at the end of the day you can turn it in and collect the money in your account."

Yuzik said that all of the changes the track is implementing this year have a common aim.

"We want to become a player-driven operation," he said. "We want to recapture the guests we have lost in recent years, and we feel we have a great opportunity to do that. The larger purses should give players more and better horses to bet on, and we've worked hard to give them more accurate and accessible information upon which to base their selections. They will have more convenient ways to wager, and they will be betting into more attractive pools. We'll also have a new rewards program in place after the New Year, which will provide incentives for our regular customers."

Success breeds success in the racing business, and it is Yuzik's hope that the cumulative impact of changes at Portland Meadows will put the track's business on an upward spiral.

"The initial response that we have gotten from horsemen is very positive," he said. "We're exited about our prospects for a successful meeting."

Slewicide Cruise returning

Fans attending Sunday's opening day program will be treated to another appearance by Slewicide Cruise, who will be the one to beat in the $20,000 Inaugural Handicap at six furlongs.

Slewicide Cruise, who won the Inaugural in 2004, has had an eventful 6-year-old campaign. Just when he seemed to be recovered from an injury to a suspensory ligament that caused him to miss almost all of last year, he injured his eye charging the gate at Emerald in May. Returning in August, he ran second in a $32,000 claiming event before winning a $40,000 optional claimer in 1:08 for six furlongs and running third to Starbird Road and Sabertooth in the six-furlong Chinook Pass Sprint.

"I think he is finally all the way back to his best form," said trainer Robbie Baze. "He ran really huge the day he won, and he just had a little too much ground to make up last time. He went by all of them past the wire, so he thinks he won. He has been really full of himself since that race, so I'm expecting another big effort."

Filly looking like the goods

Could the best horse on the grounds be a 2-year-old filly? Those who saw Blackies Cuttie win both of her starts at Emerald Downs might well suspect that is the case. Blackies Cuttie, an Oregon-bred daughter of Cascadian, blitzed $40,000 maidens by 7 1/2 lengths in August, then came back last weekend to defeat allowance rivals by an easy two lengths after six furlongs in 1:09.20.

"I ran her before she was ready the first time, then I didn't train her for three weeks after that race because we thought we had her sold," said trainer Ben Root. "I don't think we've seen her best stuff yet."

Root said Blackies Cuttie will race in the six-furlong Janet Wineberg on Nov. 5 and in the six-furlong Lassie on Nov. 19. If she is still thriving, she might take on the boys in the Os West Oregon Futurity at a mile on Dec. 10.