07/31/2007 12:00AM

Record purses draw tough competition


The resurgence that Remington Park in Oklahoma City has experienced since opening a casino in November 2005 is expected to continue during the 69-date meet that opens Thursday night.

Purses are budgeted at a record $185,000 a day. New stables have come in from Kentucky. The purse for the Oklahoma Derby has been returned to its highest level, $300,000. And there will be Sunday afternoon racing for the first time since 2004.

"By all signs, it ought to be the best meet we've ever had," said Scott Wells, vice president and general manager of Remington.

Trainers Tom Proctor, Ron Moquett, and Gary Thomas are among the Kentucky outfits new to the track. Their presence, as well as that of 12-time Remington title winner Donnie Von Hemel, Steve Asmussen, and Bret Calhoun give the meet a throwback feel to when the track first opened in 1988.

"It's going to be good racing," said jockey Cliff Berry, who has won 11 titles at Remington. "The early years, the first few years, were very tough. This meet would be more like that, I would say."

Berry will lead a deep colony that includes Eddie Martin Jr., Luis Quinonez, and Ramsey Zimmerman. Aside from the Kentucky outfits, other new barns on the grounds include Bubba Cascio, Lynn Chleborad, and Ray Tracy. In all, Remington received requests for more than 3,000 stalls. It has 1,200.

"You've got a diversified group coming from several different directions," said Calhoun, who will send out impressive debut winner Euroears in the featured eighth race on Thursday, a $30,000 optional claiming sprint.

Fields figure to be big. Last year, Remington averaged 9.6 starters per race, according to the track's racing secretary, Fred Hutton.

"We wound up second in the nation with average field size after scratches," he said.

This year, Hutton hopes to maintain the high numbers, assisted by the full training facilities surrounding Remington.

"I'm going to see a lot of horseflesh," he said.

Remington's stakes program of 30 races is worth $2.1 million, with its richest race being the Oklahoma Derby, which last year was worth $250,000. It will be run on a Sunday this year, putting an exclamation point on the new Thursday-through-Sunday schedule being rolled out this meet. Sunday's programs will have a first post of 1:30 p.m. Central.

"We listened to our fans, and in particular horse owners and people that travel to come here to the races, and a Sunday afternoon allows them to spend a weekend here and still get out early enough on Sunday evening to get home," said Wells. "We've put a lot of our stakes on Sundays. We think we'll have great afternoon entertainment."

The Oklahoma Derby is one of four stakes to be run on Oct. 21. The night before, there are three stakes races for females, led by the $75,000 Remington Park Oaks.

"We're making that whole week a festival," said Wells.

Remington's stakes program opens Friday night with the $50,000 Ponca City for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs. Tempting Date will headline the $50,000 Matchmaker Turf Sprint on Saturday, while Mystery Classic is scheduled to ship in from Texas for the $50,000 Brother Brown on Sunday.