01/03/2002 12:00AM

Purses will rise slowly

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EAST BOSTON, Mass. - The New Year brought the first of the purse increases at Suffolk Downs mandated by the racing legislation passed late last year.

"We expect purse increases to come in three parts during 2002, starting relatively slowly at first and then escalating as the year progresses," said Manny Roos, president of the New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. "A second phase of increases is slated for around April 1 and the third and most significant raise is expected when we return here in the fall when the full impact of the new laws should be realized."

It was Roos and members of the horsemen's purse committee who labored for the added purse monies, and so it was fitting that Churn, a horse owned by Roos, took home the big prize in the first $19,000 allowance race of the year, the richest allowance race ever run in New England. The 5-year-old Churn, who is trained by Roos's son, Barry, and was ridden by Winston Thompson, was one of many front-runners to relish the speed-favoring track here on New Year's Day.

Arroyo already ahead of last year

Apprentice jockey Nelson Arroyo won Suffolk's first race of the year. Arroyo, 21, is a recent arrival from New York and the younger brother of Norberto Arroyo Jr., who began his riding career in New England a few years back and came close to winning an Eclipse Award as the nation's leading apprentice after he shifted his tack to New York.

Nelson Arroyo won only two races last year while riding in New York and New Jersey. After two days of racing in Boston, Arroyo has already won three races, but he will be sidetracked a bit as he sits out a few days after he was disqualified from the win in Wednesday's third race.

Lapensee makes a comeback

Michel Lapensee has returned to the saddle for the first time in over a year. Lapensee, who has won more than 2,600 races, took off 10 days prior to Christmas 2000, spent four months walking with his dog in the woods, then returned to gallop horses here in April.

"About three months ago I grew tired of just galloping and decided to return to riding" said Lapensee, 54, who has spent the vast majority of his career in New England.