02/26/2009 1:00AM

Record purses lure several new stables


Will Rogers Downs will roll out a record purse structure during its 44-date mixed meet for Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses that opens on Saturday, and the wealth has helped attract a number of new stables to the Claremore, Okla., track.

"I think it's the best horses we've had yet," said Kelly Cathey, track operations manager.

Will Rogers, which operates a 250-machine electronic gaming casino, has budgeted purses at $180,000 a day this meet, up 10 percent over the corresponding season in 2008. Of that amount, $130,000 a day has been tabbed for Thoroughbreds.

Trainer John Locke, whose growing stable has been a strong force in Texas, will have a division at Will Rogers for the first time this meet, said Cathey. Other newcomers include trainer Kenny Smith, who said he will have 14 head in place for Will Rogers, most of them Oklahoma-breds. Trainer Mike Durham is in from Fairmont Park, Cathey said, while a handful of stables have migrated south from Kansas with last year's closing of the Woodlands.

Will Rogers has picked up one of the most noted races from the Woodlands, the Kansas Jackpot Futurity. The 300-yard race for Quarter Horses will be run April 18 as part of a 15-race stakes schedule. The richest offerings for Thoroughbreds are four $50,000 stakes, all sprints. The Wilma Mankiller and Route 66, both for 3-year-olds and up, will be run May 2, while the Cherokee Casino and Oklahoma Thoroughbred Association Classic, both for Oklahoma-breds, are on the closing-day card, May 23.

Cathey said Will Rogers's races will go into a handful of new sites this meet, including outlets in Michigan and Oregon. As for ontrack patronage, there will be a "City Day" on April 18 in which Claremore and three surrounding towns will be pitted against each other in a series of contests tied to the races. The project is sponsored by Will Rogers, the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association, and the Thoroughbred Racing Association of Oklahoma.

"We're trying to get the community involved, just like the Hot Springs community supports Oaklawn so much," said Cathey.

The riding colony will include defending champ Curtis Kimes and a number of jockeys from Oaklawn who are expected to ride at Will Rogers during dark days in Hot Springs.