11/05/2003 12:00AM

Thistledown: Economic factors promising

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NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - The business outlook for the final six weeks of the 187-day Thistledown meeting, which concludes Dec. 15, looks encouraging because of several recent developments.

Purses were increased 8 percent across the board this week, raising the minimum purse to $6,600 for bottom $3,500 claimers. Thirty new trainers have recently arrived here from Fort Erie, Finger Lakes, and Great Lakes Downs, bringing in a total of 200 horses. Also, several new simulcast outlets, including New York, have started taking the Thistledown signal.

The result is that full fields and also-eligibles, which should lead to increased handle, are beginning to show up on the overnights.

Trainer Rodney Faulkner, a regular here for the past two seasons, has gone over the 100- winner mark for the year and leads local trainers with 82 winners from 449 starters. Next in line with 50 wins is Gary Johnson, who shifted his operation to Mountaineer Park a month ago. Long-time Thistledown regular Jeff Radosevich has saddled 43 winners and Rodrigo Madrigal Sr. has tightened the girth on 39 winners.

Huber Villa-Gomez who has been riding in excellent form in his first year here leads the jockey standings with 124 winners from 606 rides. Villa-Gomez was the leading rider at Beulah Park's winter-spring meeting. Perennial leader Mike Rowland and Luis A. Gonzalez are in a dead heat for second with 115 wins.

Leading apprentice Frankie Pennington, stepson of leading trainer Faulkner, has eight winners from 61 chances and appears to have a bright future. Promising apprentice Jenny Schmidt won her third race from 54 chances with Timoa Blossom, a $148.40 outsider in last Saturday's seventh race.