05/04/2010 11:00PM

Table games to join familiar lineup at Presque Isle


Presque Isle Downs opens its 100-day meet Friday with very few changes ontrack, although there is plenty going on at the Erie, Pa., facility.

Construction is taking place on a portion of the apron to make room for the 48 table games that will be added beginning in July. The petition to allow the table games was approved April 29 by the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission. The table games will complement the 2,000 slot machines - including virtual black jack, roulette, and three-card poker - that have fueled the purses at Presque Isle Downs since 2007.

Last season, the daily average purse distribution was $200,000, and this year it is expected to be the same. Presque Isle will run 14 stakes races this year, down from 18 last year.

"They moved the Pa.-bred and sired races to Philly Park," said Jim Cornes, the track's stakes coordinator. "We weren't able to, or had a tough time filling them last year, so it made more sense to try them there."

The two highlight races of the year will be the Grade 3, $400,000 Masters on Sept. 11 and the $250,000 Presque Isle Mile on Sept. 10.

The leading trainer from last year, Jamie Ness, is back with a string of horses. Other top trainers include Joe Martin, Jonathan Sheppard, Jeff Radosevich, Michael Trombetta, Gerald Bennett, and Merrill Scherer. The top jockeys from last year will be back as well, including leading rider Huber Villa-Gomez, Harry Vega, Scott Speith, Ronnie Allen Jr., Dale Beckner, and Willie Martinez. Daniel Centeno, the leading jockey at Tampa Bay Downs this spring, also will have his tack at Presque Isle Downs.

Worship the Moon will try to extend her 2010 record to a perfect 2 for 2 in the opening-night feature, the $100,000 Inaugural. The six-furlong stakes drew a field of nine 3-year-old fillies.

Trained by Mark Shuman, Worship the Moon faced tough competition in her 2-year-old season. After winning her maiden race on July 31, the daughter of Malibu Moon ran fourth in the Grade 2 Adirondack at Saratoga. She then ran in a pair of graded events at Belmont Park, finishing third in the Grade 2 Matron and fourth in the Grade 1 Frizette. She was freshened after that effort and returned March 6 at Philadelphia Park, winning an allowance race by a length.

The bay filly has worked well for her return and signaled her readiness with a best of 28 five-furlong work in 1:00.20 on April 24 at the Fair Hill Training Center, a facility with the same Tapeta surface as Presque Isle Downs.

Justin Shepherd, aboard for Worship the Moon's last win, will retain the mount.

Red Hot Buddha also will be well backed in the Inaugural. The gray filly has won 3 of 5 starts for trainer Tom Amoss since coming to him at the end of July. Although she has yet to run over a synthetic surface, she has won 3 of 5 starts over turf, and horses that run well over turf have generally had more luck over synthetics than dirt-only horses. Scott Spieth will ride Red Hot Buddha for the first time.

The Inaugural will be run as the seventh race on an eight-race card.