04/16/2014 1:58PM

ThistleDown purses up markedly; Ohio Derby worth $300K

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ThistleDown opens a 122-day meet Friday with larger purses and larger fields. It is the second racing season that the North Randall, Ohio, track has operated as a racino.

Purses this year will start out averaging $105,000 a card, up from around $80,000 last year and $48,000 in 2012.

“The figures from this year and last do not include money added by the Ohio Thoroughbred Fund; the figure from 2012 does,” said Dave Basler, executive director of the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

Basler expects overnight purses to climb higher later in the year.

“Hopefully, it will go up another $10,000 to $115,000,” he said.

The highlight of the meet will be the Ohio Derby on July 19. The purse has been increased threefold this year, from $100,000 to $300,000. ThistleDown is owned by the partnership of Midwest-based Rock Gaming and Caesars Entertainment.

Entries went well for opening day, drawing a total of 86 horses in eight races.

“Entries went great, and we are very happy. We have a good opening-day card,” said Patrick Ellsworth, the racing secretary at ThistleDown. “As the season goes along, it will get better.”

Ellsworth said he had almost 2,000 stall applications for the 1,050 stalls on the grounds.

The gaming area, which opened April 9, 2013, features more than 1,100 video lottery terminals – slot machines that are overseen by the Ohio Lottery Commission. The Lottery Commission receives 33.5 percent of the revenue from the machines. The Ohio horsemen receive 10.6 percent, and those funds are used for purses and the breeding program.

As part of a 10-year agreement signed with the Ohio HBPA, ThistleDown and the new Mahoning Valley track – which opens this fall – will form a year-round circuit and not overlap with each other. Beginning next year, each track will run a minimum of 100 days. Mahoning Valley, a new track near Youngstown owned by Penn National Gaming, replaces Beulah Park on the Ohio circuit.

The number of stakes has increased from 12 last season to 18 this year. All of the stakes but the Ohio Derby are for either Ohio-registered or -accredited horses. Seventeen stakes were run in 2013, but five of them were Best of Ohio events. The Best of Ohio will be run this year at Belterra Park, formerly River Downs.

Some of the returning trainers from last season are Nabu Morales, who led the standings, Jeff Radosevich, Richard Rettele, Rodney Faulkner, Jevon Crumley, and Tim Hamm. Newcomer Jim Tracy has 34 stalls, and former Jerry Hollendorfer assistant Butch Marshall received 25 stalls.

The jockey colony will mirror last season’s, with leading rider Hector Rosario Jr. returning, along with Irwin Rosendo, Luis Gonzalez, Walter De La Cruz, Jeffrey Skerret, and Ricardo Feliciano. Jared Loveberry will be moving his tack from Oaklawn Park, where he finished in the top 10.

ThistleDown will run four days a week from April 18 to Nov. 16. Racing will be held Friday to Sunday, with Wednesdays added beginning May 7.