04/27/2005 11:00PM

Survival has become name of the game

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Suffolk Downs is going through tough times right now, but as the 2005 season gets under way Saturday, there is hope that things will get better.

"We're calling it our survival year," said Bob O'Malley, Suffolk's chief operating officer. "There's a lot of people that are determined to survive and make sure racing doesn't go away. Considering the tough winter, the attitude has been better than expected."

The most obvious thing missing from the new season is a stakes schedule, brought on by a harsh winter that hurt the track's simulcast business. The Grade 2 Massachusetts Handicap and the James B. Moseley Stakes are in mothballs as is the slate of $40,000 open-company stakes. State-funded Massachusetts-bred events will be the only stakes during the seven-month season.

O'Malley said he believes the winter wouldn't have been so bad if Suffolk had live racing to cushion the slump in simulcast wagering.

"I can't remember a winter where it seemed like so many of the tracks had so many cancellations," O'Malley said. "We had our days when you couldn't get here because of snow, but there were many days when if you did come down, there was nothing to bet. Had we been racing, I probably would have loved to see them all closed, but with no live product it hurt us."

Perennial leading jockey Joe Hampshire won't be back. After spending the winter leading the standings at his hometown track of Philadelphia Park, Hampshire, a nine-time Suffolk seasonal champ, will cede the throne, likely to Winston Thompson.

Thompson and newcomer Joe Judice will be in from Tampa Bay Downs, where both were top-10 jockeys. Tammi Piermarini returns from California, where her highlight was riding longshot Allright in the Santa Anita Derby.

Last season's leading trainer, John Rigattieri, is back after tying for the winter meet title at Laurel Park. The man he beat at Suffolk, Ron Dandy, is back after wintering at Philadelphia. Trainer Bob Klesaris, who won a title here in 1986 before moving to New York, returns with a small string.

Saturday's feature would have been the Miss Indy Anna Stakes, but instead the same fillies and mares who would have run in that race will run in a $25,000 allowance. Two-time local champ Lady Beelzebub makes her first start of the year after going 5 for 6 at Suffolk in 2004.

There's nothing imminent on the slots front, although the track still plans to lobby for them. Management will also be busy pressing the state to renew the racing bill that allows the track to simulcast before that legislation expires at the end of the year.

"The bills need to be in place," said O'Malley. "We're committed to racing here beyond this season."

One addition will be a pick four on the final four races each day. There's also a 70th birthday celebration planned for the track in July.

At a glance: Suffolk Downs

RACING SCHEDULE: 117 days; Saturday through Nov. 19; racing Monday to Wednesday and Saturdays

POST TIME: 12:45 p.m. Eastern; 3 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays from July 5 to Aug. 31

HIGHLIGHTS: Hot Dog Safari, May 22

ADMISSIONS: $2

PARKING: General, free; preferred, $2; valet, $4;

LOCATION: Rt. 1A, about 1 mile north of Logan Airport, Ted Williams and Callahan Tunnels; Suffolk Downs Blue Line T-stop

PHONE: (617) 567-3900

INTERNET: www.suffolkdowns.com