09/15/2004 12:00AM

Thistledown track report

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NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - Management has made several recent improvements to the facility that have been well received by fans.

The popular Dolly's Bar, located on the finish line, has been renovated. It had been inside the brick grandstand but openings have been made in the walls on two sides of the bar and fans can now see the horses being saddled in the outdoor paddock area and also the finish line. The open air atmosphere is a definite plus.

The new picnic area, located on the west end of the grandstand apron, features both grassy areas and tables at which to sit. Sundays between July and Labor Day were designated family days in the picnic area, with pony rides and removable tatoos for the kids, and free hot dogs and soft drinks. Families could register each day to win a grand prize trip to Disney World, which went to the McMonigle family from nearby Brunswick, Ohio.

The construction of a new glass enclosed high rollers' room is almost completed. It is located at the east end of the clubhouse dining room overlooking the outdoor paddock and offers a full view of the racetrack.

* Hall of Fame trainer Dale Baird, who ships horses here from his Mountaineer Park base on almost a daily basis, is nearing a new milestone. Baird the sport's all-time winningest trainer, is 20 winners short of 9,000 career victories.

* Danny McDonald, clerk of scales here for the past 14 years, has retired after a 40-year career in racing. He began as a rider in the 1960's, was a successful agent, and then in 1970 went to work in the racing secretary's office. "I've done everything here but drive the tractor. I'll miss the people here and my racing family," he said.

* Thistledown's handicapping tournament, held in conjuction with Daily Racing Form and the NTRA, will be held Nov. 6. The top three finishers will advance to the DRF/NTRA Handicapping Championship on January 21-22, 2005.