05/10/2013 3:30PM

Presque Isle Downs starts meet with new schedule

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Presque Isle Downs opens for its seventh year of racing Sunday with several big changes from years past. Most obvious of all is the new racing schedule for the customary 100-day meet. Racing will be held from Sunday to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday being the dark days.

According to the condition book in a statement from the track’s director of racing, Debbie Howells, the move was “in hopes that more simulcast sites will take notice of the great race show we work together to put on at Presque Isle Downs.” It also should help alleviate the parking congestion, as Friday and Saturday are two of the busiest nights for the adjoining casino.

Just as in 2012, two new barns were constructed, and the barn area will now hold 692 horses, up from 500 two years ago.

“We had stall applications for over 1,400 horses this year, so the extra barns will definitely help,” Howells said.

A total of 165 horses were on the card for the first two days of racing this year, one fewer than last season.

A new $255,000 starter allowance distance series begins July 4 for horses who have run for $12,500 or less. The first event will be run at a distance of 1 5/8 miles for a purse of $31,000. The purses for each of the next four events go up $10,000 a race, and the distances increase until the final event is run at 2 1/4 miles.

The Speedball starter allowance for fillies and mares who have run for $12,500 or less has the same purse structure as the distance series. The first race will be at 4 1/2 furlongs, and each of the five races will get longer, until the final race will be run at 6 1/2 furlongs.

The stakes schedule and purse structure will remain the same as last season, and the highlight of the meet will once again be the Grade 2 $400,000 Presque Isle Masters on Monday, Sept. 9. Once again in 2012, the Masters produced the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint champ and Eclipse Award-winning female sprinter after Groupie Doll won the 6 1/2-furlong event. Musical Romance achieved the same results after winning the 2011 Masters. The start of the big week of racing will begin Sunday this year, when the $250,000 Presque Isle Mile will be contested. The daily purse distribution will remain at $184,000 for the slot-fueled purses.

Joe Martin is back to defend his training title, and most of the top trainers are back. Tim Hamm, Dale Capuano, Randall Russell, Joe Cheeks, Gerald Bennett, Jonathan Sheppard, and John Bourke will all be trying to topple Martin. New trainers with stalls include Mike Maker, Greg Compton, Burton Sipp, and Jevon Crumley, according to the track’s stall superintendent, Corrie Boyd.

“We have 65-70 trainers this year” Boyd said. That is up from 64 last season.

The jockey colony will mirror last year’s, with Pablo Morales back to defend his title against Scott Spieth, Mario Pino, Ronnie Allen Jr, Huber Villa Gomez, Ricky Feliciano, and Willie Martinez. Amanda Tamburello will be moving her tack north from Kentucky and will try to make a splash in the deep jockey colony pool.

First post will be 5:25 p.m. daily Sunday through Thursday, with eight races scheduled for each day.