05/02/2012 12:12PM

Northlands Park kicks off 2012 season Friday

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The 84-day 2012 Northlands Park meet begins at 6 p.m Mountain on Friday, and management was happy with the support from horsemen at the entry windows. A total of 72 horses were entered in the eight races carded, and, according to racing secretary Jason Teague, a large part of being able to begin the season with mostly full fields was the unusually mild spring in Edmonton this year.

“We’ve basically had a race-ready track for a month, which is no small feat in Edmonton,” Teague said. “Activity on the backstretch has been brisk, so we were hoping for a strong opening weekend and we’re certainly pleased with the numbers for opening day.”

Northlands will run Fridays and Saturdays until May 16, when Wednesdays are added. Sundays will become part of the schedule June 3 through Aug. 12. The last day of racing is scheduled for Oct. 13.

The Grade 3, $200,000 Canadian Derby on Aug. 25 is the only graded stakes on the $2.1 million stakes schedule. The 1 3/8-mile feature headlines a card with four stakes races, including the $75,000 Edmonton Distaff for fillies and mares. Canadian Derby Day attracts the largest crowd of the season and will easily be the biggest day in terms of handle.

Fall Classic Day, featuring seven stakes races restricted to Alberta-breds, is scheduled for Sept. 15.

The $100,000 Speed to Spare for 3-year-olds and up, part of the Canadian Derby card the past few years, has been moved to Sept. 29.

A new stakes-rich event takes place July 21. Dubbed “Super Saturday at the Ex,” four stakes races headed by the $50,000 Spangled Jimmy for 3-year-olds and up have been scheduled.

According to Northlands Park venue director Chris Roberts, Friday nights will be given a high priority.

“We are trying to grow the business by making the experience fresh and fun,” Roberts said. “With live music and other promotions, Park After Dark will become the cornerstone of the summer racing season.”

Harness racing is conducted at Northlands through the winter, and Thoroughbreds started training March 17. Because of the short amount of time trainers had to prepare their horses, the cards for the first two weeks will consist of mostly 3 1/2-furlong sprints. Robo Willie, trained by Dale Saunders, looks like the one to beat in the opening-day feature, a $15,000 claiming race for 3-year-olds and up that drew seven horses.

Joan Petrowski, the leading trainer last year, has three horses entered opening day.

Rico Walcott heads a strong jockey colony that includes apprentice Scott Williams. Williams was the runner-up behind Ryan Pacheco in the Sovereign Award voting for leading apprentice in Canada in 2011.