10/20/2008 11:00PM

Tropical meet opener means winter's here

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The Tropical at Calder meet, which traditionally marks the opening of the winter racing season in south Florida, begins Thursday with the first of 51 programs to be offered through Jan. 2, 2009. The Tropical meet comes on the heels of the Calder meeting, which opened April 21 and ended Sunday.

The Tropical meet will offer 18 stakes, half of which are graded, worth a total of $2.2 million in purses. The Grade 2 W.L. McKnight and La Prevoyante handicaps, both at 1 1/2 miles on the turf on Dec. 13, highlight the stakes schedule. Due to a decline in business this season, the purses of the two races have been slashed from $200,000 last year to $150,000.

The first derby of the year for 3-year-olds, the Grade 3 Tropical Park Derby will maintain its usual spot on the schedule on Jan. 1.

The Tropical meet also will present several multiple-stakes cards, including the Florida Million on Nov. 8, which offers eight stakes restricted to Florida-breds worth $1.2 million.

Jockey Paco Lopez, who ran away with the Calder riding title, and Manoel Cruz will again top a jockey colony that, as always, will be bolstered by the arrival of several riders traveling down from the north later in the meet.

Post time during the Tropical meet has been advanced to 12:25 p.m. daily with Breeders' Cup Saturday (noon) and Thanksgiving Day (11 a.m.) the lone exceptions,

Admission to the grandstand and clubhouse will be free during the entire meet.