05/23/2006 11:00PM

Prairie Lily richest race of meeting

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SASKATOON, Saskatchewan - Marquis Downs kicks off its 2006 Thoroughbred season with 56 horses entered in seven races on Friday. That average field size of eight matches the average for the 2005 meeting, and race manager Rick Fior expects that trend to continue all season.

Stall applications this spring were about the same as last year, and a few horses are likely to arrive from Lethbridge, Assiniboia Downs, and Stampede Park as the summer progresses.

Not much has changed in regard to the meet's dates, as 30 days of racing have been scheduled from May 26 to Sept. 9. Racing will take place every Friday and Saturday beginning at 7 p.m., with no racing on Aug. 11 and Aug. 12.

The purse structure remains the same, with a $3,000 bottom purse, while basic purses for the stakes races remain at $6,000.

The $15,000 Saskatchewan Derby will be run at 1 1/16 miles on the closing night's card, while the meet's richest race, the $30,000 Prairie Lily Sales Stakes, goes a week earlier on Sept. 2. The purse for the Prairie Lily, restricted to graduates of the 2005 Saskatchewan yearling sale, was bumped up from $22,500.

The Aug. 19 card will feature four $10,000 Heritage Stakes for 2-year-old and 3-year-old Saskatchewan-breds.

Only 10 riders are here for opening day, but Rennie Latchman is expected from Trinidad soon and Danny Seesequasis is expected back from injury shortly. The present colony comprises last year's leading rider, Tim Moccasin, plus Serge Rocheleau, Haniff Emamalie, Duncan Gordon, Andy Scarlett, Sheldon Chickeness, Anderson Stephen, Niam Sameroo, Hector Rabbitskin and newcomer Kurt Ragbirsingh, also from Trinidad.

Last year's leading trainer, Don Bjarnarson, has Double Time set to go in the first race of the year, a four-furlong allowance.

All races carded for this weekend and the next will be run at the half-mile distance.