09/10/2003 11:00PM

Stalls filling as meet opens

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GROVE CITY, Ohio - Beulah Park, Ohio's oldest racetrack, begins its 80th season of racing Saturday afternoon. The highlight of the 81-day fall meeting, which runs through Dec. 21, is the Best of Ohio Championships on Oct. 4.

The Best of Ohio is a series of stakes races for Ohio-breds in various divisions that rotates yearly between the state's three tracks - Beulah Park, Thistledown, and River Downs. The Best of Ohio was moved forward a week this year to avoid a conflict with the defending NCAA champion Ohio State football team. Oct. 4 is the Buckeyes' bye week this season.

Beulah general manager Mike Weiss is expecting big fields for the fall meeting, which has been the norm at Beulah Park for the past decade.

"Based on stall applications we should have a full barn area," Weiss said. "But with Turfway, Hoosier, Thistledown, and Mountaineer all running, there is a lot of competition for horses."

All four of those tracks are located within a three-hour drive of Beulah and all offer considerably higher purses for comparable races.

Beulah will once again participate in the 7 & 7 alternating race format with Thistledown throughout the fall meeting, easing the strain on both tracks' racing population.

Jake Radosevich will be back with a full barn to defend his title as the meet's top trainer. Joe Woodard is the top name among trainers racing here for the first time. Marco Ccamaque, who won his first riding title here last fall, returns, as does Ivan Gonzalez, who won the riding title here at the spring meeting, which concluded in May.

Former Ohio State and Cincinnati Bengal football player Pete Johnson and other former pro athletes and celebrities will be at Beulah on opening day supporting the Give a Kid a Toy Foundation. They also will be available for pictures and autographs.

Beulah will race on a Wednesday through Sunday schedule, with a 12:55 p.m. first post. Wednesdays in September will be stand-alone cards instead of 7 & 7 programs. Beginning in the second week of October, Sundays will replace Wednesdays as the stand-alone day each week.