04/24/2007 11:00PM

No slots yet but plenty of grass races

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Time has just about run out for slots to be legalized at Indiana's two racetracks this year, but there is still reason for optimism when the state's Thoroughbred season begins Friday evening with a 48-day stand at Indiana Downs in Shelbyville.

Bills legalizing slots passed both houses of the Indiana legislature recently, but differences between the House and Senate concerning the amount of the licensing fee has kept the legislation bottled up in a conference committee. Reconcilement before the legislature adjourns this weekend appears unlikely.

Despite the apparent setback, Indiana Downs begins its 2007 meet with slightly higher purses than what was offered at the beginning of last year's meet.

"I was able to raise purses $400 for each race near the end of last meet, and what we offered then will be our starting point this meet," said racing secretary Butch Cook.

With only 500 permanent stalls, Indiana Downs relies heavily on ship-ins from other tracks and training centers in the region. One advantage the track has over some of its competitors is a turf course, which Cook said he hopes to put to good use beginning next weekend.

Because the track's lighting system does not extend to the turf course, grass racing will be more prevalent on weekday cards, which begin at 4:55 p.m. Eastern compared with 6:55 p.m. first post on Fridays and Saturdays. Cook said he hopes to card as many as four grass races a day during the week.

"We have our signal going into California and Florida this year and we want to assemble the best cards we can on those days," Cook said.

An Indiana Downs card will look much the same as in the past, with nine or 10 Thoroughbred races and two or three Quarter Horse races each day. There will be six $45,000 stakes during the meet, all restricted to Indiana-breds.

Ralph Martinez, who counted Indiana Downs among four tracks he won training titles at last year, is back, as are Indiana mainstays Gary Patrick, Kim Hammond, and Barbara McBride. Last year's leading rider, Joe Stokes, will be riding at Mountaineer on Friday, but former leading jockey Rodney Prescott will be in action opening night.

Friday night's featured ninth race marks the seasonal debut of Father John, one of the leading statebred 2-year-olds last year, who captured the Hillsdale and Indiana Stallion stakes at Hoosier.