04/20/2010 11:00PM

Prairie smooths Thoroughbred schedule


Prairie Meadows opens its 2010 season Friday evening about the same time of year as usual, but the Des Moines-area racetrack and casino is hoping a change in schedule this year will help revitalize a sometimes-flagging racing product.

Prairie historically has run a Thoroughbred-only meeting to start its season, followed by a mixed meet of Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, but no longer. Friday's opener marks the start of a 67-day Thoroughbred-only meet that ends Aug. 7, after which Prairie will host a Quarter Horse meet through late September. The change smoothes a longstanding wrinkle in the Prairie Meadows schedule: The fact that many Thoroughbred trainers lost significant stall space once the mixed-meet began later in the season.

"When we went out in past years to recruit, people wanted to stay through the mixed meet, but we had to give up 40 or 50 percent of our stalls then," racing secretary Dan Doocy said. "That always came out during recruiting, and now it's gone. People can come in from Oaklawn or Turf Paradise or Tampa, come here, then go to Hawthorne or Remington or wherever. It's a better flow for them."

Evidence that the revamped schedule might shift Prairie's dynamic already has shown up: Doocy said that there are about 20 new stables accounting for some 375 horses ready for the upcoming meet.

"I think it is going to be an improvement, and it's good for everybody involved," said trainer Chris Richard, a Prairie regular. "It should be a higher-quality meet, and you know exactly what you're dealing with now. That second meet was pretty brutal the last couple years unless you had 10 or 12 Iowa-breds in your barn."

With fewer Thoroughbred-only dates on the racing calendar, Prairie bumped some purses for 2010. Bottom-level open stakes are now worth $60,000 rather than $50,000, while Iowa-bred stakes have been boosted by a minimum of $5,000. Claiming-race purses have gone up $500 per race, while maiden special weight and allowance horses will run for $1,000 more than they did during the Thoroughbred-only meet last year. The meet's high point is the Grade 2, $300,000 Cornhusker Handicap, scheduled for June 26. Prairie's typical racing week will be Friday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, but several Wednesday and Thursday cards pop up throughout the summer.

Richard should be in plenty of action as will 2009 leading trainer Lynn Chleborad, who entered horses in six races Friday night. There is room for change at the top of the jockey standings though, with leading rider Terry Thompson at Delaware this year and Tim Doocy down with an injury.

Friday's opening-night card drew 82 entries for nine races, including nine in race 8, the featured $60,000 Goldfinch Stakes, a six-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies. On paper, the Goldfinch looks strictly like a two-horse race between Starlite Starbrite and Kinsolving, both of whom wintered at Fair Grounds. Starlite Starbrite compiled 2 wins and 2 seconds from 4 Fair Grounds starts over the winter and has been working steadily for trainer Tom Amoss at Churchill Downs.

But while Starlite Starbrite has talent, Kinsolving, from the barn of trainer Steve Asmussen, has stakes experience. Kinsolving placed in the Grade 3 Debutante last summer at Churchill, and in her lone dirt start of 2010, finished second to the nice filly Chantilly Nyla in an off-the-turf Fair Grounds dash.