11/02/2001 12:00AM

Tropical: Better racing, yet lower purses

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MIAMI - Sunday is the opening of the Tropical-at-Calder meeting. That means classier racing, the return of big name stables, world-class riders, and smaller purses.

Beginning Sunday, purses will tumble on a race-to-race basis compared with the Calder meet - despite the fact the quality of the daily fare will improve. But as Calder president Ken Dunn explains, the lower purses are merely a factor of more races being presented over the course of the next 8 1/2 weeks.

"Actually we're giving away more money on a weekly basis than we did during the Calder meet, but because we will be racing six days a week instead of five we have to spread that money out over more races," said Dunn. "We saw the same thing last year when Tropical's overnights were lower than Calder's even though the 2000 Tropical meet was the biggest and best we ever had. In 2002 we are going to make a concerted effort to race a five-day week throughout the entire year."

Dunn said the focus of the upcoming meet is to impress upon the public and media that the influx of big name horses, trainers, and riders from the Northeast doesn't start on Jan. 3 with the opening of Gulfstream Park but actually begins during the final month of the Tropical meet.

"From a racing standpoint we've adjusted our stakes schedule concentrating all our $100,000 stakes and graded races in December and January," said Dunn. "Prior to that we'll present two stakes a day on Saturdays with the main focus being on Florida-breds. Beginning around the first of December we expect a lot of imported help for our programs."

A total of 16 stakes valued at $100,000 or higher will be presented from Dec. 1 through closing day, Jan. 2, with seven of those events carrying graded status. The highlights of the meet will again be the Grade 2, 1 1/2-mile W.L. McKnight and La Prevoyante handicaps, each carrying a $150,000 purse.

The local jockey colony will receive a significant boost when Rene Douglas and Eibar Coa return on a regular basis beginning Sunday. Both are fresh off major riding championships this summer. Douglas won the Arlington Park title and Coa ran away with the Monmouth crown.

Douglas hopes to duplicate his outstanding 2000 Tropical meet in which he won four of the 17 stakes decided here including both the Tropical Park Derby and Tropical Park Oaks with newly turned 3-year-olds Proud Man and Voodoo Dancer.

Post time for the Tropical Park meet will be 12:25 p.m. daily except for Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22, when first post will be 11 a.m. Live racing will be conducted Wednesday through Monday, with full-card simulcasting only on Tuesdays.