02/27/2015 11:25AM

Purses down sharply as Mountaineer opens meet

Belinda Madrid/Coady Photography
Musicinthehouse, winning the Sophomore Sprint in 2013, will look to win the opening-night allowance feature for the second straight year on Sunday.

The start of March may mean that spring and brighter days will soon be here after a brutal winter, but at Mountaineer Racetrack, the Sunday opening of the 2015 season beckons with ominous clouds hanging over the future of racing in West Virginia.

Horsemen will be racing for drastically reduced purses and with the likelihood of a shortened racing calendar at the track in West Virginia’s panhandle, just across the border from Ohio.

A new law that took effect last July reduces the money racetracks receive from video lottery terminals and table games. Mountaineer will lose about $2.5 million annually from the horsemen’s purse fund. As a result, overnight purses are way down, and all but the nine stakes on West Virginia Derby Day have been eliminated.

To meet state law, Mountaineer is scheduled to run 210 dates, but legislation already has been introduced that would allow the track to reduce live racing to 185 days.

Maiden special weight horses who competed for a $19,400 purse on opening day last year now will run for $14,100, a 27 percent decrease. Several of the same horses who ran in the 2014 opening-night allowance feature for $37,100 are entered in Sunday’s featured eighth race for a $25,100 purse, a drop of 32 percent.

The nine races on Sunday’s opening card are worth a total of $90,000, which represents a 32 percent drop from the March 1, 2014, opening program’s $132,400 in purses.

Mountaineer also faces new competition for horses from Mahoning Valley Race Course, which is about 40 miles away in Austintown, Ohio. Both tracks operate Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, leaving Sunday as the only day when Mountaineer runs unopposed.

The same horses entered for a $5,000 claiming tag in a non-winners-of-two condition for a $6,200 purse at Mountaineer, for example, can run for a $7,900 purse at Mahoning Valley.

The marquee event of the meet remains the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby on Aug. 1. The lone daytime program also is the only card with stakes. The eight undercard stakes consist of the $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s Stakes and seven $100,000 races. Eliminated from the stakes schedule were four races worth a collective $365,000, including the $130,000 Mountaineer Mile.

Sunday’s allowance feature at five furlongs includes Musicinthehouse, whose 4-for-10 record at Mountaineer includes a win on opening night last year, and Jasizzle, second as the 7-5 favorite in the 2014 opening-night feature and a winner on the first card of 2013.