06/21/2005 11:00PM

Plenty of perks for centennial

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EDMONTON, Alberta - Alberta racing celebrates its centennial with record stakes purses, another $6 million worth of improvements to the track, and a record jockey population that will greet fans on the opening day of the 72-day meet at Northlands Park on Friday. The meet extends to Oct. 29.

The 76th running of the Grade 3 Canadian Derby at 1 3/8 miles on Aug. 27 will carry a purse of $300,000, a 20 percent increase from last year and double the amount of two years ago.

The premier offering for 3-year-old fillies Aug. 13 has been renamed the $100,000 Alberta Centennial, but only for this year's race. The race's name will revert back to the Sonoma in 2006.

Purses for other stakes have been boosted 25 percent, to $50,000, and the average distribution for overnight purses will be $122,000 daily, unchanged from 2004.

Two stakes for 3-year-olds, the Chariot Chaser and Western Canada, have been moved from early in the meet to mid-October.

"Previously, these horses, especially American-breds, had nowhere to run later in the year, when the emphasis is on events like the Alberta Fall Classics," said racing secretary Fred Hilts.

The increases, which were announced by Horse Racing Alberta, the governing body of racing in this province, are the result of revenue derived from slot machines, about 500 of which are in play at Northlands.

The horses will saddle up in a new paddock that is adjoined by a new winner's circle. There will be new viewing areas on two levels at the site of the old paddock. State-of-the-art screens and monitors have been installed in the new lounges.

The weigh scale has been relocated to the paddock area from its long-time position in front of the grandstand.

Dick Armstrong, superintendent of the jockeys' quarters, said he will have 20 jockeys in his room, a sharp jump from most recent years, when they were in short supply.

Returning riders include perennial leader Quincy Welch, Rickey Walcott, Desmond Bryan, Chris Fearon, and Kenyatta Davis

Five new riders will also be at the meet: Mike Fretz, who is recovering from a broken collarbone suffered this spring at Stampede Park; Kerry Perry; Roy Ramirez; Andrew Thomas; and apprentice Nadia Dohnalova.

Dohnalova becomes the third woman in the colony, joining Leanne Painter and Shannon Beauregard.

In addition, Chris McGregor, Alberta's leading rider in 1990 and 1992, has emerged from a one-year retirement.