09/12/2002 12:00AM

We'll have a 7 & 7, please


GROVE CITY, Ohio - Beulah Park's 71-day fall meeting begins Saturday afternoon and will feature the return of the 7 & 7 alternating-race format with Thistledown.

Beulah will run stand-alone programs this weekend before beginning the 7 & 7 format with Thistledown on Wednesday. Under the 7 & 7, the two tracks will intersperse their respective seven-race cards and share a single simulcast signal.

Beulah and Thistledown raced under the 7 & 7 format for nearly a decade before ending the arrangement this spring. Both Beulah and River Downs, who each ran 7 & 7 programs with Thistledown during the summer, opted out of the arrangement, expressing dissatisfaction with the terms of the agreement with Thistledown, a Magna Entertainment-owned facility.

"Returning to 7 & 7 is in the best interests of all of the tracks in the state." said Mike Weiss, Beulah Park's general manager. "It's better for all of the tracks to work together, Thistle was having trouble filling races, and the fans like the fast-paced action," he said, referring to the format under which one of the tracks runs a race approximately every 20 minutes.

Beulah has dropped its minimum claiming price this meet from $4,000 to $3,500, and the bottom purse has dropped from $5,000 to $4,200.

"It's nearly impossible for us to compete with some surrounding tracks from a quality standpoint," said Weiss, referring to both Mountaineer and Hoosier Park. "We want to give fans full fields of competitive racing, and I think the changes will allow us to continue to accomplish our goals."

Both Mountaineer and Hoosier offer purses between two and three times those of Beulah in races with the same conditions.

Mountaineer has slot machines, while Hoosier Park receives purse subsidies from the admission fees charged by Indiana's riverboat casinos. The operators of Ohio's seven racetracks - three Thoroughbred and four harness - have unsuccessfully lobbied for casino-type gambling at racetracks.

If the opening-day card is any indication, track management appears to be on course to achieve its objective of carding full fields, as more than 100 horses are entered on the 10-race card.

Beulah Park will race on a five-day-a-week schedule throughout the fall meeting on a Wednesday-through-Sunday schedule. First post is 12:55 p.m Eastern through the end of daylight savings time in October and then will switch to 12:25 pm.

The opening-day feature is the $40,000 Honey Jay Handicap for Ohio-breds at six furlongs. The 11-horse field is headed by 119-pound starting highweight Waist Gunner John, who enters off a fourth-place finish in the 1 1/4-mile Governor's Buckeye Cup at River Downs on Sept. 1. A versatile 4-year-old, he figures to benefit from the switch back to Saturday's sprint distance.

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