04/14/2009 11:00PM

Top team figures to start meet strong


Trainer Chris Englehart and jockey John Davila Jr. form a combination that's difficult to beat at Finger Lakes.

Davila, the leading rider at the western New York track for each of the past six years, and Englehart, the five-time defending training champion, have won races at a 29 percent clip over the past two seasons by going 219 for 755.

Last year, when Davila outdistanced runner-up Dennis Carr by 41 victories, 124 of his meet-leading 171 wins came for Englehart, whose 138 wins were nearly double that of second-place trainer Michael Ferraro.

Friday, when Finger Lakes launches its 163-day season, Englehart and Davila will team up in three of the nine races, including Karakorum Sunshine in the featured eighth race, a starter allowance for fillies and mares who have run for a claiming price of $4,000 or less the past two years.

Finger Lakes, which features 1,200 slot machines, has retained the same 17 stakes as last season. The list is headed by the $200,000 New York Breeders' Futurity on Oct. 3 and the $150,000 New York Derby on July 11.

Some of the better horses on the grounds will be racing for slightly bigger purses in 2009 as overnight purses rise about 10 percent to roughly $123,000 daily. A first-level allowance race, for example, now goes for $19,100, a $2,000 increase since last spring. New York-bred maidens will compete for a purse of $24,000, a $1,200 increase, while the purse for open maiden special weight company is now $20,000, $1,000 more than last year. Races for bottom-level claimers remain at $8,500, the same as last spring.

One new face in the jockey colony this season is former New York Racing Association regular Filiberto Leon. Leon is resuming his riding career after focusing his attention as owner-operator of the popular Leon's Mexican Restaurant in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He has ridden just nine races since June 2007.

The 5-year-old Karakorum Sunshine is eligible for Friday's eighth race at 4 1/2 furlongs because she ran for a $4,000 tag in her last start. She won 3 of 14 races last year, and is making her first start since early October. She has a string of local workouts, including a three-furlong breeze in 35.40 seconds that was the second best of 51 works at the distance on April 3.

Davila will ride two others for Englehart on opening day - new acquisition Marian B in race 7 for $15,000 maiden claimers and the former Linda Rice-trained gelding Piquante Cat in the ninth race, for $4,000 claimers who haven't won a race within the past year.