08/26/2002 11:00PM

Two Grade 3's highlight 70-day meet

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Thoroughbred racing returns to Indiana on Thursday as Hoosier Park in Anderson begins a 70-day meet that runs through Dec. 1.

Hoosier's signature event, the Indiana Derby on Oct. 5, has received Grade 3 status this year and has had its purse increased to $400,000. The preceding night will feature the $300,000 Indiana Breeders' Cup Oaks, also a Grade 3 race. Three $100,000 stakes are scheduled for the meet, the Hoosier Debutante on Nov. 9, the Michael G. Schaefer for older horses on Nov. 16, and the Hoosier Juvenile on Nov. 23. A total of 25 stakes worth more than $1.8 million are scheduled for the track's eighth season.

Terry Thompson, winner of a record 121 Thoroughbred races at Hoosier Park a year ago, returns to defend his title in a deep colony of riders. Rodney Prescott, Tom Pompell, Mike Morgan, and Rick Moss are among the leaders from last year named to ride on Thursday's opening-night card.

Trainer Stanley Roberts, who set a record by winning 42 races a year ago, returns and is well represented on the opening-night card. Gary Patrick and Ray Stifano, who tied for second with 17 wins apiece last year, return, along with top 10 trainers Marv Johnson, Kelly Von Hemel, Ray Tracy, and Kim Hammond.

Hoosier Park, located northeast of Indianapolis, has been Indiana's lone parimutuel racetrack throughout its existence, but beginning in December it will be joined by Indianapolis Downs, located southwest of Indianapolis in Shelbyville. Indianapolis Downs, primarily a harness track, may also conduct a short Thoroughbred meet in 2003. The Indiana Racing Commission last week ruled that the track is required to offer 20 days of Thoroughbred racing in order to retain the Thoroughbred simulcast revenue it generates.

Original plans called for Indianapolis Downs to offer only turf racing - Hoosier Park does not have a turf course - but plans may now include both dirt and turf racing.

The two tracks will split a riverboat casino admission subsidy beginning in 2003. The subsidy is expected to provide approximately $28 million in funds used for purses, promotion of the sport, and improving the breeding program in the state.

Racing at Hoosier Park will be conducted on a Thursday-through-Monday basis with a post time of 6 p.m. One exception to the schedule is Thanksgiving weekend when there will be racing on Wednesday, Nov. 27. Post time for Thanksgiving Day is 11 a.m.

For the first time, Hoosier will offer full-card simulcasting on Tuesdays. The Tuesday simulcasts begins on Sept. 10 and will keep the facility open seven days a week.

There will be Quarter Horse racing on Sunday nights beginning Sept. 8. There usually will be three Quarter Horse races offered at the end of the card. A total of nine stakes for Quarter Horses will be offered, headed by the $45,000-estimated QHRAI Stallion Service Futurity finals on Sept. 21. Trials will be held Sept. 8.