09/04/2001 11:00PM

Purses, location lure highly bettable fields


Horseplayers who complain about field size shouldn't have many beefs during the 70-day meet that opens Friday night at Hoosier Park in Anderson, Ind.

Eleven races, all but two with full fields of 10 starters, are on tap for the opener, a card that track officials believe is a sign of things to come. In recent seasons, Hoosier has become a bettor's delight, primarily because of the allure of the purse structure.

Races are routinely worth far more - double or more - than the claiming price a horse must carry in a given race. Hoosier, partly owned and managed by Churchill Downs Inc., still receives an admission tax subsidy from Indiana riverboat casinos, which clearly has benefited racing in Indiana in many ways.

In addition, Hoosier is conveniently located near several surrounding circuits, helping to explain why the track took an eye-popping 196 entries for opening night alone. Canterbury, Ellis Park, and River Downs each closed meets recently, and Prairie Meadows will close soon. Churchill Downs and its Sports Spectrum annex are a 2 1/2-hour drive away. Horses in Chicago who are not very competitive for the $5,000 bottom claiming price can win for slightly lower tags with "beaten" conditions. Even stables from Louisiana were not uncommon last year

With an emphasis on attractive betting races primarily among claimers, the stakes schedule is slow to get going, with the first stakes scheduled for Sept. 29. The pinnacle of the stakes schedule comes on the first weekend of October: The track's only graded race, the Grade 3, $200,000 Indiana Breeders' Cup Oaks, will be run Oct. 5, followed by the $300,000 Indiana Derby the next night.

Terry Thompson, the leading rider here last year, is back to defend his title.

This is the first Thoroughbred meet to be conducted at Hoosier since the Indiana Racing Commission approved a license for a second standardbred track in the Indianapolis area; Standardbred racing also is conducted at Hoosier, located some 30 miles northeast of downtown Indianapolis. Construc-tion has not yet begun on the new track.

Overall, this is the seventh Thoroughbred meet at Hoosier, which began operating in 1995.