12/13/2006 1:00AM

Purses to be cut for final two weeks


CHICAGO - Hawthorne will cut purses by 7 percent when its final condition book begins Dec. 17, Hawthorne general manager Jim Miller said Wednesday. The purse cut comes in the face of handle figures that are struggling to keep pace with last season's numbers, and an ongoing problem with an overpaid purse account.

Miller pointed out that purses at the 2005 fall-winter Hawthorne meet were cut three weeks into November, and that the track made it a month longer this year without cutting purses. Miller said purses offered during the meet's final two weeks - it ends Jan. 1 - would be similar to those at the end of the 2005 season.

Average daily handle from all sources at Hawthorne is down about 10 percent from last season, though a portion of that decline can be attributed to the predominance of nine-race cards this year. Hawthorne often offered 10-race programs during 2005. But aggregate handle - that is, the total amount bet on Hawthorne races divided by the number of races during the ongoing meet - still is down some 7.5 percent in 2006. Offtrack wagering is down about 6 percent, a decline Miller attributed to the return of the Fair Grounds meet in New Orleans this fall. Daily ontrack wagering has fallen some 14 percent from last year.

The purse account at Hawthorne is overpaid by about $1 million; the figure was close to $2 million at the beginning of the meet, Miller said. Hawthorne has run purse-account overpayments since the Illinois state legislature stopped funding recapture, which allows tracks to deduct money from purse accounts to make up for ontrack handle lost when Illinois adopted full-card simulcasting. Recapture might have worked decently while the Department of Agriculture continued funding the subsidy with state money, but since the state budget fell into deficit, recapture has caused problems. Even since the state has declined to reimburse purse accounts, tracks are entitled to their recapture money. And with the National Jockey Club out of the Chicago racing mix next year, Hawthorne alone faces the problem of an overpaid purse account when its 2007 season starts in late winter.

Fractured wrist Meier's latest injury

Randy Meier didn't even bother going to the hospital closest to Hawthorne after going down in a gate spill Sunday afternoon. He showered, headed home, went to an urgent-care clinic for immediate attention on his injured wrist, then called his regular doctor Monday morning.

"He got on the phone and asked, 'What'd you break this time?' " Meier said. "It's pretty sad, really."

Many of the bones in Meier's 52-year-old body have been broken during a long career dotted with spills. So, this fractured navicular bone isn't going to keep Meier from getting back in the saddle. Meier said the injury was expected to heal in six weeks, and that he would return for the 2007 spring meet at Hawthorne.

"I've got a couple things I still want to do before I consider [retiring]," Meier said.

Chief among Meier's goals is reaching 4,000 wins; before Wednesday's races, he had 3,967.

Meier's mount in Sunday's eighth race, Miss Classified, stumbled badly out of the gate - something that has been happening to horses with unfortunate regularity lately at Hawthorne. Meier said two more of his mounts had lost their footing leaving the gate last weekend, and leading rider Chris Emigh said last week that the track's powdery racing surface was troublesome at the gate. Both riders said that horses had trouble gripping the surface when they tried to get traction at the break.

Miller, Hawthorne's assistant GM, said Mother Nature had corrected the problem. Unseasonably warm weather the last several days in Chicago has completely changed the track surface, which had gone through a period of snow and unseasonable cold.

"They shouldn't have any trouble getting a hold of it now," Miller said.

Mare's Ex out of Jim Edgar Futurity

Cross off a potential upsetter in Saturday's Jim Edgar Futurity. Mare's Ex, a 2-year-old who already had shown he could handle a route distance, has been withdrawn from the race because of an illness, trainer Jim DiVito said. Mare's Ex caught a cold, and though he had shaken the illness by Wednesday, could not be 100 percent for the Futurity, a race DiVito had in mind a couple of months ago.

"That's racing," DiVito said. "Tough luck."

Caruso, trainer Richard Hazelton's unbeaten Illinois-bred 2-year-old, figures to be a strong favorite in the Edgar. Others expected to start are Applewood, Beauzen, Igottadream, Stone House, Sweet Baby Ray, and That I Am. Several others are possible.

* There are two candidates for feature-race status Friday at Hawthorne: an entry-level allowance race for open company and a second-level allowance restricted to Illinois-breds.