06/18/2002 11:00PM

Short fields, but not for too long

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EDMONTON, Alberta - It should come as no surprise that opening weekend at Northlands Park would be a little short on horseflesh.

Every year, the short time between the end of the spring meet at Stampede Park, which came last Sunday, and the opening of the summer meet here leaves the stalls only partially filled.

The 68-day Northlands meet opens Friday with an eight-race card that attracted a total of 58 entrants.

Total purses at the meet will be in excess of $7 million, an average of $105,000 per day. That total includes record purse money of $1.6 million for 32 stakes, with the lowest stakes purse set at $40,000.

The increase in stakes purse money is the direct result of additional slot revenues and will have a positive effect on the quality of racing this year. Evidence of that can be seen on the backstretch, where trainer Greg Tracy has moved his 40-horse operation to Northlands from Montana.

Jockey Orlando Martinez, a top 15 rider from Turf Paradise in Phoenix, will ride here.

"With the number of horses that will be on hand and the amount of the total purse money, this is the most anticipated meet in Edmonton for years," said Jonathan Huntington, media coordinator for Northlands Park. "We'll have some trouble for the first week because of shipping problems, but once everyone arrives it promises to be a very entertaining season."

The stake schedule opens with the $40,000 Journal for older horses on Saturday, and the first look at the 3-year-old crop will come June 29 in the $40,000 Western Canada.

The highlight of the year is the 73rd Canadian Derby on Aug. 24, and with no clear-cut favorite having emerged, it's expected that the $150,000-guaranteed race will attract a top field of 3-year-olds.

Other stakes races of note include the $100,000 Speed to Spare on Sept. 7 and Alberta Fall Classic Day on Sept. 22.

An interesting battle is going at the top of the Alberta trainer standings, with Ron Grieves leading the way heading into this meet with 19 wins.

Red Smith and Dale Saunders have dominated the Alberta standings for years, but Grieves is looking to lead the way for the first time in his career.