03/31/2004 1:00AM

Remington: Old dates and fresh optimism


Remington Park opens on Friday night with dates similar to those of its first 15 years and a departure from last year's mid-summer dates, which cost the track prominence on the national Quarter Horse scene.

The 27-date Remington Park Quarter Horse season runs through May 31. First post time will be 6:25 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and 1:15 p.m. on Sundays. Average daily purse distribution this year will be $45,000, including stakes races. G.R. Carter, the meet's leading jockey with 14 wins last year, is back. So is last year's leading trainer, Rodney Reed, who won 13 races in 2003.

The opening-night program features the trials to the Grade 1, $100,000 Remington Park Derby and the $10,000 Remington Distance Handicap. The Remington Park Derby finals are on April 24, a card that also includes the Grade 1, $250,000 Remington Park Futurity.

In the third of three derby trials on opening night, Redman Running, winner of last year's Grade 1, $178,359 Remington Park Futurity, makes his first start since running second in the Grade 1 American Airlines Juvenile Championship on Nov. 1 at Los Alamitos.

Redman Running won 5 of 8 starts as a 2-year-old and earned his berth in the Juvenile Championship by winning the Oklahoma Juvenile Championship at Blue Ribbon Downs.

Among entrants in the Distance Handicap is the 2001 Heritage Place Derby runner-up Rulon Gardner.

Last year's mid-summer dates led to conflicts with other mid-summer futurities and derbies, notably in Texas and New Mexico. Thus, owners were making payments to conflicting futurities and often passing the Remington stakes. The purses for the 2003 Remington Park Futurity ($178,359) and Remington Park Derby ($78,915) were the smallest in their 15 runnings and less than 60 percent of the purses for the 2002 runnings.

This year, Remington Park is back to the traditional spring dates and the Grade 1 Heritage Place Futurity and the Grade 1 Heritage Place Derby are back in the stakes lineup after being held at Blue Ribbon Downs last year.

"Racing goes in cycles and we were in a down cycle," racing secretary Fred Hutton said. "But now, everybody - and I mean everybody - is optimistic around here, especially about the long term."

The long-term plans include bringing back the Grade 1 Remington Park Championship, probably in 2005. "That is a top priority for me," Hutton said. "Consider it done. We really need more older-horse races."

The Remington Park Championship, a Grade 1 stakes for older horses, was not held last year but in previous years had a major impact on the voting for world champion. Among Remington Park Championship winners from 1997-2002 were world champions Tailor Fit and SLM Big Daddy.