03/23/2005 12:00AM

Purses elevated 15 percent thanks to increased handle

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GROVE CITY, Ohio - A 15 percent across-the-board purse increase will begin on Saturday for the final six weeks of the Beulah Park winter-spring meeting. The purse hike is the result of a 14 percent increase in total handle through the first 48 days of the meet over the corresponding period in 2004, according to general manager Mike Weiss.

Average daily handle at the meet is $1,273,305, compared to $1,116,571 last year. The increase in handle continues a three-year trend at Beulah, which also experienced a large increase in total wagering last season. The increases have allowed the track's purse account to go from a $65,000 overpayment at the end of January 2004 to a large underpayment now.

Outside bias finally corrected

Meanwhile, on the track, the outside bias that has been in place from mid-February through mid-March has been greatly negated by a regrading of the racing surface during an off day last Thursday. The bias arose after sand was added to the surface in early February.

The bias was extreme on some days. Over one three-week period, a majority of the races were won by horses who ran the widest around the turn. The Beulah riders picked up on the bias after several days went by.

In many races no horse ran closer than 10 paths from the rail around the turn, yet horses who raced widest still were winning regularly. Many winners raced 20 to 25 paths wide on the turn and closer to the outside fence than the rail through the stretch.

A few days before the track was graded, one rider was called into the stewards' office for striking another horse with his whip entering the stretch. The rider's response was he didn't see the horse because, he said, "I didn't think anyone could be wider than I was."

Weiss was aware of the bias but he said he was told by the outside contractor that grades the track that six hours of daylight and a dry track were needed to correct the situation. With Beulah conducting live racing five days a week, Thursday was the first opportunity to grade the surface.

When racing resumed last Friday, horses again were racing at or near the rail, and since then there have been several rail-skimming winners - although the middle of the track might still be slightly better than the inside, judging by last weekend's results.

Ward memorialized in winner's circle ceremony

Paul Ward, Beulah's lead outrider since 1968, died at his home in Canal Winchester, Ohio on Monday evening at the age of 70.

Ward was a jockey for 17 years in the Midwest prior to becoming an outrider. He won several riding titles here in the 1950's.

Beulah honored Ward with a ceremony in the winners circle before racing on Tuesday. A group of riders, trainers, and other backstretch personnel gathered as Ward's pony was led into the circle with Ward's riding boots placed backwards in the stirrups, and then a moment of silence was held in Ward's honor.