06/22/2004 11:00PM

Richest meet ever kicks off


EDMONTON, Alberta - Thanks to increased financial support from the provincial government, the 2004 Thoroughbred meet that opens Friday will be the richest in Northlands Park history.

The result should be an elevated level of competition, particularly in August, when the 75th running of the Grade 3 Canadian Derby will carry a purse of $250,000, an increase of $100,000 over previous years.

The 72-day meet ends Oct. 30 and comprises 36 stakes. The highlight of the season will be the Aug. 28 Canadian Derby, where entrants are expected from Canada and the U.S.

Historically, if a local horse looked dominant at Northlands during Derby prep races, outsiders would hesitate to absorb the shipping costs.

"When it comes to horse racing, there are no guarantees, but common sense suggests that we could have an outstanding field for the Canadian Derby with the purse money available," said Jonathan Huntington, Northlands Park's media coordinator. "We've always garnered interest from B.C., Manitoba, and Ontario, in particular, but chances are some of the tracks in the northern U.S. will also look to ship here based on the winner's share."

Other highlights of the meet include the Alberta Fall Classic Day on Sept. 25, featuring seven stakes for Alberta-breds; the $100,000 Speed to Spare on Sept. 11; and the $100,000 Sonoma on Aug. 14.

The stakes season kicks off Saturday night with the $40,000 Journal Handicap for older horses.

* Jockey Stephan Heiler, one of the top jockeys in Alberta over the past five years, rode what was probably his final race last Sunday at Stampede Park. Heiler accepted a position with Bar None Ranches and will be working with trainer Ron Grieves.

* If all goes well, Fancy As will return to Northlands Park in July for the first time since his Canadian Derby win in 2001. Fancy As, who is trained by Red Smith, finished third as the favorite in his 2004 debut at Assiniboia Downs last Sunday.

At a glance: Nortlands Park

RACING SCHEDULE: 72 days; Friday through Oct. 30., Fridays through Sundays; Wednesdays beginning July 7 (except July 21, Aug. 4, Sept. 8, Oct. 13, and Oct. 27); Thursdays, July 1 and July 22; Mondays Aug. 2, Sept. 6, and Oct. 11

HIGHLIGHTS: $100,000 Sonoma, Aug. 14; $250,000 Canadian Derby, Aug. 28; $100,000 Speed to Spare, Sept. 11; Alberta Classic Day, Sept. 25

POST TIME: 6 p.m. weekdays; 1 p.m. weekends and holidays

SLOTS: 500 machines, 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays


LOCATION: Northlands Park complex, at approximately 75th Street and 115th Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta

SIMULCASTING: Daily except Tuesday.

PHONE: (780) 471-7379

INTERNET: www.thehorsesatnorthlands.com