05/17/2013 2:05PM

River Downs-at-Beulah meet opens

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GROVE CITY, Ohio – It’s been a long process, but the 65-day River Downs-at-Beulah Park meet opens Sunday. The River Downs meet needed to be relocated this year because the track’s grandstand has been demolished and the racing surface is being repositioned to make way for a new racino that will hold 1,600 slot machines. The new facility, which is owned by Pinnacle Entertainment, is expected to open in spring 2014.

Final approval to hold the River Downs season at Beulah was granted by the Ohio Racing Commission on May 1. Negotiations between the commission, the tracks, and the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association dragged on as many issues had to be resolved. A major sticking point was a disagreement between the commission and Penn National Gaming on how much racetrack seating Penn’s proposed racino in Youngstown, Ohio, should include. Penn National Gaming is the owner of Beulah Park.

The River Downs stakes schedule will remain intact, with all of the stakes for Ohio-bred horses. Turf stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles were changed to a mile on the main track because Beulah Park doesn’t have a turf course. The highlight of the meet remains the $75,000 Norm Barron Queen City Oaks for 3-year-old Ohio-bred fillies on July 28.

Racing secretary Ed Vomacka said there are several positive changes at the meet.

“The purses are up 10 percent, so that should help,” he said. “We will be running four days a week rather than the usual five, so it should be easier to fill races.”

Stall applications were submitted for approximately 800 horses. The Beulah barn area holds nearly 1,000.

“I think we will fill up once we get going,” Vomacka said. “There are guys at Turfway that may get tired of shipping and get stalls.”

Nearby Scioto Downs, a harness track, will hold holiday cards over the summer, and Beulah Park will not.

The training ranks will remain basically the same, with Joe Woodard, Charlie Lawson, Mike Rone, Kris Nemann, Tom Scherder, Kathy Lowry, and Doug Cowans all having stalls. Newcomers will be Jeff Engler and Eric Reed.

The jockey colony will be nearly the same, with Perry Ouzts, Edgar Paucar, Gabriel Lagunes, Rodrigio Vergara, Andre Sanchez III, and Juan Vargas. Lori Wydick will be back to challenge after a hiatus of several years.

In Sunday’s $50,000 Tomboy at one mile, Blazing Bling will attempt two turns for the first time this season. Trained by Tim Hamm, Blazing Bling was beaten only a half-length by her stablemate, 2012 Ohio horse of the year Significant Bling, in the Royal North on April 6. In her next out April 20, she finished third against statebred males in the $50,000 H.B. Noonan Memorial. Both of those races were at Beulah going six furlongs.

Blazing Bling won the 1 1/16-mile, $75,000 Best of Ohio J.W. Galbreath at Thistledown last October. Deshawn Parker will ride Sunday.

The main threat in the six-horse field of 3-year-old Ohio-registered fillies appears to be Uptown Gal, a winner in two of her last three races. Trained by Jim Rankin, Uptown Gal won an open maiden race at Turfway Park on March 23, earning a race-high Beyer Speed Figure of 70, five points higher Blazing Bling’s best. After finishing third behind Blazing Bling in the Royal North, she won an entry-level allowance at Mountaineer Park going a mile.

Daniel Benevides retains the mount.