04/21/2004 11:00PM

Revamped stakes a more progressive array

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - One needs to look no further than the dramatic physical face-lift that Churchill Downs is undergoing to know that change is inevitable in almost any place or endeavor.

Sometimes that change is sudden, such as when Churchill lost its longtime racing secretary, Jerry Botts, to a brief illness on Jan. 1, 2002. Yet even in the wake of such trying circumstances, unexpected good can result. The search to replace Botts ultimately gave Doug Bredar the greatest opportunity in his well-traveled career as a racing official, and in two short years, the Churchill racing program already has Bredar's fingerprints all over it.

Bredar, 42, has worked not only to keep Churchill among North America's elite racetracks - where Botts left it - but also to instill change where he believes it is required. Drawing on his 21 years of experience in 11 states - including Illinois, California, and Florida - Bredar, in conjunction with Churchill's senior vice president for racing, Donnie Richardson, has revised numerous aspects of both the overnight and stakes programs at Churchill.

For example, with four new stakes being introduced at the 53-day spring meet that begins Saturday, Bredar said he "tried to make it so that instead of it being a stakes schedule, it's more of a stakes program, so that in most cases a trainer has more than one opportunity to run in each of the categories we offer."

This is how those new stakes fit in:

* The $100,000 Alysheba, which gives the Kentucky Oaks card a sixth stakes race, is a possible prep for older horses pointing to the June 12 Stephen Foster Handicap.

* The $100,000 Open Mind, set for May 15, fills a previously existing void for 3-year-old turf fillies at a sprint distance.

* The $100,000 Winning Colors, a six-furlong dirt race for fillies and mares on May 22, follows the Grade 1 Humana Distaff by three weeks and fills a void.

* The $100,000 Opening Verse, part of the June 12 Foster card, becomes a third turf race for older males, following the May 1 Woodford Reserve and preceding the July 3 Firecracker.

Bredar also has announced the creation of one new stakes at the fall meet, the $150,000 Commonwealth Turf, which fills a void for 3-year-old turf horses.

Besides the new races, there are several other alterations this spring.

* Purse raises for the Humana Distaff (up $50,000 to $250,000, fulfilling the minimum requirement for a Grade 1 race), Dogwood (up $50,000 in Breeders' Cup funds to $150,000), and Northern Dancer (doubled to $200,000).

* New dates for the May 30 Dogwood (from mid-May, to permit more time from the April 30 Edgewood) and the June 12 Jefferson Cup (from late June, giving the Foster undercard a sixth stakes).

Churchill officials long have been particularly keen on making Foster Day a primary focus of the post-Derby segment of the spring meet and a nationally recognizable day of racing. This year, with the addition of the Opening Verse and Jefferson Cup, the Foster program figures to be stronger than ever.

"It should be a blockbuster day," said Bredar.

Besides the stakes program, overnight races also provide tremendous allure for horsemen, and Bredar is ecstatic that per-day purses are expected to average about $447,000.

"That's higher than last spring, even considering a 10-percent increase at the end of the meet," he said. "We're basing our projections on a very slight underpayment from last year, plus the anticipation of an exceptionally good meet from a business standpoint."