03/06/2008 1:00AM

Thistledown deadline set

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Officials of Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns Thistledown, have set a March 17 deadline for the Ohio division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and the track to reach an agreement on 2008 racing dates. Representatives of Thistledown and the horsemen's group met on Wednesday but were unable to agree on how many dates the Cleveland-area track would run this year. Negotiations continued on Thursday.

"March 17 is the deadline that has been set," said Bob Roberts, a spokesperson for Thistledown. "We didn't get anywhere on Wednesday, but we hope to come up with something."

Thistledown is scheduled to open May 1, but the two sides have been in negotiations for months over the length of the meet.

Thistledown officials originally wanted to run 91 days this year, with the horsemen requesting 136, the same number as in 2007. At the meeting Wednesday, Thistledown offered to run 122 days. In 2005, Thistledown ran 187 days, with the number declining each year since.

According to Roberts, the track will be returning stall applications to horsemen, and no other applications will be sent out or accepted. The Thistledown racing office will not open as scheduled on March 10, and personnel have been told not to report to work until they are notified.

Thistledown is one of the tracks Magna has put up for sale in order to reduce its debt.