04/02/2003 1:00AM

Viva Ruckus on the card opening day


CALGARY, Alberta - Viva Ruckus, winner of 10 races on this circuit the past two years, runs here on Friday, opening night of the 2003 Alberta Thoroughbred racing season.

Horsemen will reap an 8 percent increase in overnight purses this year, bolstered by the track's share of slot machine revenue.

Racing at the 43-day meeting at this downtown Calgary course will be conducted four days a week, with post time at 6 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays and on 1 p.m. on the weekends.

Racing secretary Barry McGrath has carded only four-furlong races for opening weekend because inclement weather hampered training throughout March. After a dark day Wednesday, McGrath has slated six-furlong dashes for the remainder of the first condition book.

The 73rd running of the Grade 3 Alberta Derby on June 14, the next-to-last day of the meet, highlights a 12-race stakes program that begins with the Stampede Park Sprint Championship on May 3.

Friday's feature is for $28,000 claimers and attracted a field of six.

Viva Ruckus, an 8-year-old mare, had another strong campaign last year, winning her first stakes in the Wild Rose in June at Northlands Park.

On Friday she is reunited with rider Richard Hamel and will be coupled in the wagering with stablemate Sweet on You Too. The entry will be well bet.

Trainer Ron Grieves, who led the standings last year, saddles both horses for his primary owner, Bar None Ranches.

Viva Ruckus has enjoyed considerable success over wet surfaces, and the forecast for snow and rain throughout the week only improves her prospects of winning the featured eighth race.

Although 72 horses were entered for Friday's nine-race card, there are only 12 jockeys here to ride them, and management remains concerned with the lack of depth in the riding colony.

Dave Wilson, a stalwart at Hastings Park in Vancouver the past decade, is here, but Rickey Walcott, second to Quincy Welch here last year, remains in Barbados, attempting to sort out immigration problems.

Anderson Trotman said he intends to remain in Barbados to ride under stable contract this year, and journeyman O.A. Martinez has yet to return from his winter base at Turf Paradise in Phoenix.



RACING SCHEDULE: Friday, April 4 through Sunday, June 15. Wednesdays, Fridays through Sundays; Monday, May 19

POST TIME: 6 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time Wednesdays & Fridays; 1 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays, Monday.



LOCATION: 2300 Stampede Trail S.E., Calgary, Alberta

MEET HIGHLIGHT: $50,000 Herald Gold Plate, June 8; $100,000 Alberta Derby, June 14

PHONE: (403) 261-0214; scratches & results (403) 974-7223

INTERNET: stampede-park.com