04/15/2003 11:00PM

Purses down for opener

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Finger Lakes in western upstate New York opens its doors on Friday for a 162-day meet, and horsemen will find that purses have been lowered by $300 across the board.

Last year, the lowest purse at Finger Lakes was $5,800 for $4,000 claimers. The purse for horses running at that level is now $5,500.

The meet also could open without a racing secretary. As of Wednesday afternoon, a replacement had yet to be named for Daniel Doocy, the racing secretary last year, who recently accepted a job in the racing office at Prairie Meadows. Finger Lakes management expects that a new racing secretary will be named shortly.

Paul Steckel, an owner with horses at Finger Lakes and the president of the 550-member Finger Lakes Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said part of the reason the purses were lowered was because of extreme winter weather that hurt simulcast business.

"The weather wasn't cooperative and that hurt our simulcast revenue," Steckel said. "We've also had horses leaving here, which has reduced field size and means less handle."

Steckel said Finger Lakes horsemen are hoping for the introduction of video lottery terminals at the track by 2004 so that purses can get a much-needed boost from VLT revenue.

Steckel estimates about three-quarters of the 1,220 stalls at Finger Lakes are filled. He expects the stalls will continue to fill as horses return from Florida and when racing is expanded to five days a week next month.

Sixteen stakes, worth an estimated $800,000, will be run at Finger Lakes, which has no turf course. The highlight of the stakes schedule is the $125,000 New York Derby on July 26. The 1 1/16-mile New York Derby is the middle leg of the Big Apple Triple for New York-bred 3-year-olds. Another big race on the calendar is the $100,000 New York Breeders' Futurity on Labor Day, Sept. 1.

Daily doubles have been added to the third and fifth races this meet. Also, a new graphics package for in-house telecasts and simulcasts will provide more information and enhanced viewing. A new website will be launched in May.

Trainer Michael S. Ferraro seeks his seventh consecutive title at Finger Lakes. John Davila Jr. returns to defend the riding championship he won last year at the expense of six-time title holder John Grabowski.

The opening-day features are a pair of $14,600 New York-bred allowance races for males at 4 1/2 furlongs.