03/10/2017 4:30PM

Stakes renamed to honor horses with ties to Oklahoma track

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Will Rogers Downs in Claremore, Okla., opens for a 30-date meet Monday that will feature a unique starter series, renamed stakes races, a new room dedicated to simulcast players, and an altered post-time schedule. The season will run through May 20.

The racing program is led by eight stakes worth a cumulative $430,000. John Lies, the racing secretary, announcer, and oddsmaker for the track, renamed four of the races for horses who had ties to Will Rogers Downs or Oklahoma, among them Highland Ice, Miranda Diane, and More Than Even.

“I felt like it would be appropriate to move in the direction of branding the track and developing an identity for us, and one of the things that goes along with that is naming stakes for popular horses that accomplished a lot at the track,” said Lies.

Miranda Diane was a Will Rogers specialist, winning 10 races at the track, including six stakes. The $50,000 Miranda Diane is the former Wilma Mankiller Memorial for fillies and mares at six furlongs. It will be run April 3. The $50,000 More Than Even is named for the earner of more than $500,000 who also was a regular in the winner’s circle at Will Rogers. More Than Even’s wins included the RPDC Classic Distaff for Oklahoma-bred fillies and mares at two turns, and that race will now bear her name when it is run May 15.

Lies also has created the “Green Digger” starter series for Will Rogers, named for a horse who won 10 races at the track. The starter races carry conditions that cater to turf horses even though Will Rogers does not have a grass course. The move is, in part, an effort to keep horses from shipping out of state for grass races during the meet.

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“The idea was to try to create a division so turf horses could race against each other and make it a more competitive race,” said Lies.

The races will be restricted to horses who have started twice on turf in their last four starts or who have never won a race on dirt. There are nine such starter races, some open, others for fillies and mares. They range in distance from five furlongs to 1 1/16 miles.

Will Rogers will race Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays in March, and on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Saturdays in April and May. First post will be 1:05 p.m. Central, about 10 minutes earlier than last year, said Lies.

“We are trying to avoid post-time conflicts with other tracks,” said Lies.

Will Rogers, which has a casino with 250 electronic gaming machines, is projected to average $125,000 a day in purses, said Lies.