Updated on 09/16/2011 7:04AM

With no 7&7, meet must stand on own


NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - Despite being pounded by two severe winter storms this past week, Thistledown will begin its 187-day racing season Friday afternoon. For the first time in eight years, Thistledown will go solo and drop the 7&7 racing format, under which it was part of a single simulcast signal with either Beulah Park or River Downs.

Director of racing Bill Couch says that with the exception of opening day he will card seven races on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and eight races on Saturdays and Sundays. Friday's card has eight races.

Purses at Thistledown, which is owned by Magna Entertainment, will average $67,000 a day, with the minimum purse $7,000, for $3,500 claiming races. Five $3,500 claiming races are carded on the opening-day card, four of which offer full 12-horse fields and one of which has 11 entrants.

As was the case last season, there will be only two open stakes during the meet, which runs through Dec. 23. They are the Grade 2, $300,000 Ohio Derby, which this year has been moved back to its traditional July 20 date after being run in late September in 2001, and the $50,000 Isi Newborn Handicap, which will be run on the Ohio Derby Day undercard. The Ohio-bred stakes schedule has 23 races with purses ranging from $30,000 to $100,000.

"We moved the Ohio Derby back to July because the numbers just didn't add up last year and we had a small field," Couch said.

First post will be 1:30 p.m., rather than the 12:55 first post of previous years. Changes in the racing format include the dropping of the twin trifecta and tri super bets. All races will offer exactas, trifectas, superfectas, and pick threes. Daily doubles will be available on the first two and last two races each day.

Gary Lee Johnson, the leading trainer here for the past five seasons, has 41 horses on the grounds. Andy Konkoly, who should be Johnson's main competition, has shipped in 32 horses from Houston. Other trainers of note include Miguel Feliciano, who has brought 33 horses in from Tampa Bay Downs; Michael Nance, who has a 30-horse stable; and longtime regular Rodrigo Madrigal, who will have 22 horses under his care.

Mike Rowland, who has been first, second, or third in the rider standings here each year since 1985, will once again be on hand. Scott Spieth, who has been near the top of the standings each year since 1998, when he first came here following the close of Detroit Race Course, should also have a good meet, as should Julio Felix, the leading stakes-winning rider the past three seasons.