01/22/2004 1:00AM

Stakes purses reach record $120M


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Despite getting off to a later start this year, the 2004 Woodbine meeting will offer 101 stakes with purses totaling a record $20 million.

Woodbine has scheduled 167 days of racing, the same number as in recent years, but pushed the opening back to April 17 to accommodate an extensive barn renovation project. A five-day racing week will begin on April 28, and the meeting will wrap up Dec. 12.

The 2003 meeting began March 22, but did not go to a five-day racing week until June. The meet ended Nov. 30.

Maintaining the status quo for the stakes schedule required some juggling, said Woodbine director of racing Chris Evans, including some of the preps for the $1 million Queen's Plate and the $500,000 Labatt Woodbine Oaks.

The Queen's Plate, a 1 1/4-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds - the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown - will be run June 27. The Woodbine Oaks, a 1 1/8-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies, goes June 13.

The Achievement Handicap, a six-furlong race for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies, which in recent years has been the first stepping-stone on the road to the Queen's Plate, will be run this year on July 1.

The Lady Angela, a seven-furlong race for Ontario-sired 3-year-old fillies that formerly was run earlier in the meeting, will be run May 29. It follows the Grade 2 Selene Stakes, an open 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies, which is the final major prep for the Oaks.

The most notable change on the schedule regards the Highlander and Nearctic handicaps.

In recent years, the Highlander had been run at six furlongs on dirt on Canadian International Day; the Nearctic, a six-furlong turf race, had been a supporting feature on Queen's Plate Day.

Now, the Grade 3 Highlander will be worth $200,000 and will be run at six furlongs on the turf on Plate Day. The $250,000 Nearctic, a Grade 2, joins the Grade 1, $1.5 million Pattison Canadian International and the Grade 1, $750,000 E.P. Taylor Stakes as a third turf feature on this year's Oct. 24 program.

"The Nearctic is worth more, and has achieved Grade 2 status, and is probably more of the international attraction," said Evans, adding that if the timing proves popular the Nearctic could soon achieve Grade 1 ranking.

The focus also will be on turf on the other major day of the meeting, with the Grade 1 Atto Mile, Grade 2 Canadian Handicap, and Grade 2 Summer Stakes all carded for Sept. 19.

The Atto Mile is a $1 million race for 3-year-olds and upward while the $250,000 Canadian is a 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares and the $250,000 Summer is a one-mile race for 2-year-olds.

The only new race on this year's schedule is the $100,000 Hill 'n' Dale Farm Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies. Hill 'n' Dale, as the sponsor, plans to offer stallion seasons to the top three finishers.

The schedule is subject to approval by the Ontario Racing Commission.