03/08/2006 1:00AM

Purses double at long Remington meet


The 50-date Quarter Horse season at Remington Park opens on Friday night with an infusion of casino cash into purses and the return of the $150,000 Remington Park Invitational Championship.

The longest Quarter Horse season in Remington Park history, surpassing 49 dates in 1989, the meet runs through June 4.

Horsemen will be running at twice the 2005 purses - an estimated $9 million. An infusion of casino funds from 650 video-gaming machines now operating at the track fueled the purse boost.

"It's been a tremendous increase," said racing secretary Fred Hutton. "We're probably looking at $180,000 a day [in purses] from all sources,"

The increased purse money helped resurrect the Remington Park Invitational Championship, last run as the Remington Park Championship in 2002. The winner of the 440-yard stakes on June 4 will receive an invitation to the Grade 1, $600,000 Champion of Champions at Los Alamitos on Dec. 9.

The richest of the 37 stakes are the Grade 1, $750,000 Heritage Place Futurity on June 4 and the Grade 1 $500,000 Remington Park Futurity on April 30.

The Racing Challenge program will offer four stakes races on May 14, led by the Grade 1, $100,000 Oklahoma Challenge for older horses.

Trainers competing for these purses include two-time defending Remington Park training champion Eddie Willis, Jack Brooks, Dwayne Gilbreath, and Heath Taylor, who trains 2005 world champion DM Shicago and millionaire Vals Fortune. These geldings are prospects for the Oklahoma Challenge and the Remington Park Invitational Championship.

G.R. Carter Jr., an eight-time Remington Park riding champion, heads the jockey colony. He is also the defending national champion jockey, an award he has won five times.

First post will be 6:25 p.m. Central except on Kentucky Derby Day (May 6), Preakness Stakes Day (May 20), and Memorial Day (May 29). Those dates will have a 2:30 p.m. first post time.

Wood has two for derby trials

The Blane Wood-trained pair of Sunland Fall Futurity runner-up A Smokie Chick and All American Futurity finalist Firestorm Perry start their derby seasons in the three trials to the Grade 2 West Texas Derby on Friday afternoon at Sunland Park.

The 10 fastest qualifiers from the 400-yard trials qualify for the finals on March 25.

A Smokie Chick is making her first start since finishing second in the Grade 2 Sunland Fall Futurity on Dec. 31. She came up three-quarters of a length short of the winner, One Special Shade, after having won her two previous starts, including a trial for the Sunland Fall Futurity in 19.34 seconds for 400 yards.

Firestorm Perry is trying return to the form he showed during his freshman season after finishing off the board at Sunland Park in his latest two starts. Last year, he was third in the Grade 1 West Texas Futurity behind champion Leading Spirit and sixth in the Grade 1, $1.9 million All American Futurity.

Romanticist takes class rise

Romanticist steps up to the stakes ranks when she goes for her third straight win in the $30,000 Ivan Ashment Handicap for Cal-bred fillies and mares on Saturday night at Los Alamitos.

Romanticist is in the best form of her 16-race career with a $25,000-claiming win and a conditioned-allowance win in her latest two starts.

That Lovely Day has two wins and a second in her last three starts, each at the $50,000 claiming level.