01/20/2003 1:00AM

Purses down for '03; Festival broken up


There are numerous purse reductions in the Prairie Meadows stakes schedule for this year's Thoroughbred meeting, and the Iowa Festival of Racing has been dismantled.

The 53-day meet is scheduled to begin April 18 and run through June 28.

Under a new five-year contract with horsemen, total purses for both the track's Thoroughbred and mixed meetings this year will be approximately $15 million, down from nearly $20 million in 2002.

Revenue from slot machines at the racetrack has fallen short of expectations.

The Festival races had traditionally been run the first week of July and consisted of one or two stakes per night, each worth more than $100,000. The Festival will now be spread out over the last two weekends of the Thoroughbred meeting and the first two weekends of the 45-day mixed meet that begins July 4.

The Iowa Oaks, Saylorville, Iowa Sprint Handicap, and Iowa Distaff, all part of the festival in years past, have $25,000 purse reductions for 2003. All, however, will still have six-figure purses.

The premier Prairie Meadows race, the Grade 3 Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles, has been moved back a week and will be run on Saturday, July 12. The Cornhusker purse has been reduced $25,000, to $300,000, with an additional $50,000 available to Breeders' Cup-eligible horses.

Five stakes - the Panthers, Prairie Mile, Wild Rose Handicap, Prairie Gold Lassie, and the Prairie Gold Juvenile - have had their purses reduced by $10,000, to $50,000. The Precisionist Handicap, the local prep for the Cornhusker, has had its purse cut in half, to $50,000. One stakes, the Diamond Trail has been eliminated this year.

Derron Heldt, director of racing for Prairie Meadows, said several factors contributed to breaking up the Festival of Racing, including the fact that the Thoroughbred meet will end a week earlier than in past years.

"From a scheduling standpoint and overall we felt this would be better for our racing program," said Heldt.

Pat Pope will return as racing secretary for the Thoroughbred meeting in 2003. The track, which has employed separate secretaries for the Thoroughbred and mixed meets, has begun a search for a year-round secretary to fill both posts. Heldt said the remainder of the mixed meet stakes schedule will be completed once a new secretary has been announced.