04/18/2007 12:00AM

Race days shuffled for 2007


ALTOONA, Iowa - Looking to bolster field size and increase handle, Prairie Meadows will run fewer races per card and switch its racing days during the 2007 Thoroughbred meet that begins Friday night.

The 46-day meet, which ends on July 4, will have the same purse structure as last year, $230,000 per day. The track and horsemen are working on a one-year agreement in 2007 after the previous three-year agreement expired last year. There will, however, be some tweaks to the racing format. Ten-race cards have been downsized to nine races per day in the hope of building up field size, which last year averaged 7.5 runners per race. Director of racing Darren Heldt hopes the average field size can grow, leading to an increase in wagering and more exciting racing.

"It's something we've looked at for a while, and decided to give it a try," said Heldt.

Prairie Meadows has also changed its schedule this year. In addition to Friday and Saturday evening cards, which begin at 6:30 p.m. Central, Prairie Meadows will race Monday and Tuesday afternoons beginning at 3:30 p.m. The Monday afternoon card is new this meet, replacing last season's Thursday evening card.

The Prairie Meadows facility includes a large casino that has 1,737 slot machines and 55 table games, including craps, roulette, blackjack, baccarat, and a number of poker variations. The Thoroughbred meet will be followed by a 40-day mixed meet that runs from July 10 through Sept. 15.

The Thoroughbred meet will be highlighted by the 11th annual Iowa Festival of Racing, which features such races as the Grade 3, $200,000 Iowa Oaks and $250,000 Iowa Derby on June 29, and the $125,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap, $125,000 Iowa Distaff Breeder's Cup, and Grade 2, $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap on June 30.

All-time leading Prairie Meadows trainer Dick Clark is back to defend his title, and will have the nation's leading owner by wins, Maggi Moss, behind him. Clark had 64 winners at last year's meet, 40 more than runner-up Kelly Von Hemel. All of the top 10 trainers from last year are returning. Among the new stables are Cliff DeLima from Northern California, Terry Gestes from Oaklawn, Randy Morse from Oaklawn, and Barbara McBride from Tampa Bay Downs, making for what should be the deepest Prairie Meadows training colony in recent years.

Tim Doocy's 77 winners topped last year's jockey standings, and Doocy should be strong again after a solid Oaklawn meet. Glenn Corbett, Alex Birzer, Terry Thompson, Carlos Montalvo, Jesse Campbell, and Perry Compton also return with solid connections.

Friday night's card features the $50,000 Goldfinch for 3-year-old fillies going six furlongs. Sea the Joy, winner of the Prairie Gold Lassie here last July, will make her first start of the year in a field of nine.

A daughter of Stormy Atlantic, Sea the Joy is trained by Steve Asmussen and will be ridden by Doocy from post 5.

Irish Party, a two-time stakes winner at Prairie Meadows as a 2-year-old, is coming into the race off a third-place finish in allowance company at Oaklawn Park. Kelly Von Hemel trains Irish Party and Richard Monterrey, a Maryland rider who is new here, has the call. Kentucky shipper Boat's Ghost and Florida shipper More Than Anything have stakes experience.