09/26/2001 11:00PM

Smith Stakes tops opening day


EAST BOSTON, Mass. - Suffolk Downs begins a 150-day meet Saturday, the ninth meet held by Sterling Suffolk Ltd., a group that bought and reopened the track in 1992.

Racing will take place five days a week, with Thursdays and Sundays dark, through Dec. 22, when the live racing program takes a nine-day break. Racing will resume on Jan. 1, 2002. Post time is 12:45 p.m. daily. There will be nine races on Saturdays and eight the other days.

The purses have been raised to match the purses paid during the Rockingham Park meet. Top allowance races are worth $18,000 and maiden races $12,000, while $4,000 claimers will race for $5,000.

Racing secretary John Morrissey scheduled six $25,000 stakes races for open company in the 2001 portion of the meet. They will be augmented by stakes races for Massachusetts-breds, once those races are approved by the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

The opening-day feature is the $25,000 Bruce G. Smith Memorial Stakes at about 1 1/16 miles on the turf for older horses. Ben Speedin, who won Rockingham's Sam McCracken Memorial in his last start, will try to cement his position as the area's leading turf runner. He'll carry 121 pounds.

Magical Madness will attract plenty of support. Trained by Ned Allard, he has won five races this year, including the Monmouth's five-furlong Crank It Up Stakes. Magical Madness will carry 119 pounds.

The future of racing in Massachusetts and at Suffolk Downs, in doubt since the Suffolk meeting ended June 9, remains unresolved. The state has yet to pass racing legislation, and so the Suffolk meeting will begin under a fifth extension of a racing bill that expired in 1999. Negotiations that are reportedly taking place between Sterling Suffolk and the Magna Entertainment Corporation about a sale or lease of the track are on hold.

"We have no idea about the legislation," said Bob O'Malley, the chief operating officer of Sterling Suffolk. "There seems to be a dispute between the Senate and the House."