04/08/2008 11:00PM

Schedule calls for more solo days

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CINCINNATI - In a change from recent years, River Downs, which begins its 83rd season Friday, will race more days on its own - rather than as part of the Ohio 7&7 program - during the month of April.

Under the 7&7 program, two of Ohio's three Thoroughbred tracks - Beulah Park and Thistledown are the others - alternate their races as part of a single simulcast signal, with each track carding seven races. Because Thistledown has trimmed its meet from 136 days in 2007 to 122 this year, it won't open until May 1.

River Downs, which will hold a 102-day meet, runs four days a week in April. On Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, River Downs will race solo. It will combine with Beulah Park for a 7&7 card on Saturdays. The remainder of the meet, River Downs will combine with Thistledown in a 7&7 format, except for Tuesdays, when it will race alone.

Because River Downs will race on its own nine times in April, it will have to card more races than usual, which will stretch the local horse population and place greater demands on the horsemen's purse account.

"It will definitely affect the horsemen's account," said Ed Vomacka, the racing secretary at both River Downs and Beulah Park. "Most days we will only run eight races. But sometimes we might run nine.

"The upside is we will get to see how it affects the handle running all live races rather than the 7&7, so it is kind of a wait-and-see type thing."

The highlights of the meet will be the $200,000 Cradle Stakes on closing day, Sept. 1, and the $100,000 Bassinet on Aug. 30. They are the only two stakes of the meet that are not restricted to Ohio-breds.

This year's River Downs jockey colony is the deepest in recent memory. Thirteen of the 44 riders listed in the condition book have won riding titles, with perennial River Downs riding champion Perry Ouzts leading the way. Other title holders who will ride here are Vernon Bush, Jose Calo, Marco Ccamaque, Julio Felix, Ivan Gonzalez, Victor Lebron, Edgar Paucar, Tommy Pompell, Rodney Prescott, Hector Rosario Jr., Dean Sarvis, and Otto Thorwarth.

Several leading trainers will also be returning, including Tim Hamm, Charlie Lawson, Dennis Moore, Kris Nemann, and Ivan Vazquez.

River Downs will also be the pre-party headquarters for seven concerts - Tom Petty, Jimmy Buffett, and five country music acts - at the adjacent Riverbend Music Center.

Also new to the track this year will be a Memorial Day celebration honoring past and present members of the armed forces on May 24. The first 200 patrons with military ID will get a picnic lunch for themselves and their families.