01/08/2003 1:00AM

Veitch, Huffman among new Oaklawn trainers


A handful of new stables with proven records should add depth to Oaklawn Park's racing program this season. Oaklawn will pay out record purses of $235,000 to $240,000 a day when its meet opens Jan. 24.

Trainer John Veitch will be back in Hot Springs, Ark., for the first time in more than two decades. The last time Veitch raced at Oaklawn was 1979, when he won the Fantasy with eventual 3-year-old champion filly Davona Dale.

That same year, the Veitch-trained Alydar finished second, beaten a nose by San Juan Hill, in the Oaklawn Handicap.

Veitch, who keeps some horses in South Carolina, will have a string of eight to 10 horses at Oaklawn.

"I have horses for John Ed Anthony, who has a home in Arkansas, and who has always taken his horses there," said Veitch.

Anthony has won the Arkansas Derby three times, with Temperence Hill, Demons Begone, and Pine Bluff, and the Oaklawn Handicap twice, with Cox's Ridge and Temperence Hill.

Trainer Blackie Huffman is another returning to Oaklawn after a long hiatus. He has not raced at the track since 1990, and will have 16 to 18 horses on hand for the meet. Huffman's top horses include stakes-winning sprinters Roxelana and Emily Ring.

He also has maidens and claiming horses he thinks fit the condition book well, one of the reasons he is shipping his horses in from Kentucky.

Roxelana, a winner of 6 of 10 starts, is "getting a breather" but will run later in the meet, said Huffman, while Emily Ring should run sooner. She has won four of her last five starts - her two most recent in stakes - and is possible for the $50,000 American Beauty on Feb. 8.

For trainer Robert Klesaris, who is based in New York, this will be his first meet at Oaklawn. He has a string of 10 horses in Hot Springs.

"We were looking to try that part of the country," said Klesaris. "Most of the horses I have there had been running at The Meadowlands," which closed Nov. 23.

Another trainer returning to Oaklawn this meet is Noel Hickey. He will have 20 horses in Hot Springs.

New safety rail at Oaklawn

Oaklawn has replaced its longtime wooden inside rail with a new safety rail. The aluminum railing is a product of the Rider Protection System and is the same type of rail in place at Churchill Downs and Lone Star Park. The cost of the project was about $250,000.

Before the railing was installed, which took about two weeks, many details had to be in place.

"We put in a new gate ramp at the 5 1/2-furlong marker, moved back many things along the inside rail, including the timing units, and have re-worked the vehicle tunnel on the first turn so that it is not as close to the rail as before," said Eric Jackson, general manager of Oaklawn.

The new rail has a width of 22 inches compared to the 8- to 10-inch width of the old rail. The project required the removal and replacement of 500 supporting posts.

Maryland, New Jersey help Delta

Delta Downs, a small track in Vinton, La., last week had one of its strongest handle periods in history. Patrons bet at least $1 million a day on the track's races last week, with the strongest night coming on Friday, when $1,486,363 was bet on the live card at Delta.

It was the highest handle ever on a 10-race Thoroughbred card at the track, and the highest handle Boyd Gaming has recorded at Delta since it bought the track in May 2001.

Jack Bernsmeier, a vice president with Boyd, said new simulcast sites in Maryland and New Jersey helped increase handle, as did the exposure the track received through the inaugural running of the $500,000 Delta Jackpot on Dec. 21.

Also at Delta last week, one patron - Mike Licatino of Port Arthur, Tex., - won $1 million playing slots.

* The directors of the Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame at Retama Park want fan input on who should be inducted next fall. For information contact Retama or email officials at run@retamapark.com

* Woostershear, who has won one-mile races at Churchill Downs in his last two starts, shortens up to seven furlongs for the seventh race Friday night at Sam Houston.