04/13/2005 12:00AM

Thistledown track report


The 187-day Thistledown racing season got off to a promising start last Friday, when betting showed a marked increase from last year's opening weekend.

The ontrack handle on Thistledown's live races was up 21 percent over the 2004 figures, and the all sources handle, which includes all money wagered on Thistledown's live races plus handle on incoming simulcasts, was up 25 percent.

"It was an outstanding opening day," said track vice president and general manager Bill Murphy. "Plus the excitement carried over to Saturday, when we had another outstanding day."

The increase in wagering was accomplished even though field size was down from opening weekend a year ago. The average field size opening weekend was 7.8 horses per race, whereas in 2004 the average was 10. Factors that contributed to the shorter field sizes included the severe weather this winter, when a record of 106 inches of snow fell; the season beginning three weeks later than normal; and a noticeable absence of shippers the first two days.

* Trainer Gary Johnson on Sunday ran an entry whose combined age was 24 years. Cumberland Gap was the older of the two, at the ripe old age of 13, while running mate Black Forest is 11.

* Jeff Radosevich, a longtime Thistledown regular, first as a rider and now as a trainer, had a very successful winter at Mountaineer, where he ranked second in the trainer standings. He will have a string of 20 horses here. Radosevich leads the standings here after opening weekend, with 4 winners from 12 starters.

* Scott Spieth, second-leading rider here in 2004, is off to a fast start and tops all riders with nine winners. He was the leading rider here in 2000 with 204 winners.