12/28/2001 1:00AM

Ohio Derby back to July date


NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - Next year's Grade 2, $300,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown will be returned to its traditional July spot on the calendar after having been moved to Sept. 29 this year.

"We tried to use it as a prep for the Breeders' Cup, but the numbers didn't add up," said Bill Couch, the track's racing secretary. "In the three years prior years, the Ohio Derby drew 11-horse fields. This year, the field was six."

The Thistledown 2002 stakes schedule consists of 24 races - 23 for Ohio-breds - with a gross value of more than $1.5 million. Thistledown in 2002 will serve as the host track of the Best of Ohio series, which rotates annually between Thistledown, Beulah Park, and River Downs. The five Best of Ohio races, which offer a combined $375,000 in purses, will be held Oct. 14.

Thistledown will not participate in a 7-and-7 alternating-race format with either Beulah or River Downs in 2002 and instead will race and send out its own simulcast signal on a five-day-a-week racing schedule. Thistledown will race 187 days in 2002 from March 29 through Dec. 23. The barn area will be opened for training Feb. 25.