10/15/2003 11:00PM

What's new? Monday racing


PORTLAND, Ore. - Portland Meadows will experiment with a new schedule at its 80-day 2003-04 meeting, swapping the traditional Sunday racing for Mondays and moving the first post time back from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Only Friday night racing's 7 p.m. first post will remain the same.

The changes reflect an increased emphasis on exporting the signal from Portland Meadows, which is entering its third season under the auspices of Magna Entertainment Corp.

"We'll be the only Magna track running on Mondays, and that will open the door for our races to get a lot more exposure, especially on the East Coast," said general manager Jeff Grady. "We hope to be able to increase our total handle significantly through the sale of our signal on Mondays."

Grady said Saturday's later first post is likewise intended to increase the market for the track's live races.

"It will allow us to be racing after the California tracks have finished and before the Eastern tracks that race at night have begun," he said. "We'll have a couple of races when nobody else is running, so we'll have the simulcast market virtually to ourselves during that period."

Grady said feedback he received from horsemen has been mostly positive, though he admitted that some are skeptical regarding the changes.

"There will always be some who resist change, but, frankly, we needed to change," he said. "Business as usual just wasn't going to cut it. We've got to be innovative if we want to find our niche in the market.

Because it receives a smaller share of the takeout, the track needs to handle about five new out-of-state dollars on its races for every in-state dollar it might lose because of the new schedule. With several new simulcast customers on line, including the entire Pennsylvania network of wagering centers, Grady is confident the track can exceed that ratio. If the ratio is exceeded dramatically, horsemen will be rewarded by cooperation with higher purses.

Two other factors could contribute to higher purses before the meeting is over. The first is the installation of 20 Instant Racing machines, which offer rapid-fire wagering on tapes of previously run races. The second is the addition of five newly authorized video poker machines to go along with the five machines to which the track was already entitled. Ten percent of the net receipts for the Instant Racing machines and 50 percent of the net receipts for the new video poker machines will be earmarked for the purse account.

Facility improvements

Ontrack fans shouldn't feel slighted by the increased emphasis on the out-of-state market, as several improvements to the facility have been made for their convenience. The track has constructed a new park area and a new play structure, and it will feature a new food schedule. The escalator to the turf club, which has been out of use for several years, has been restored, and the entire grandstand has been repainted green and white. The turf club, incidentally, will be available for simulcast wagering on Sundays.

In addition, the track will stage several new ontrack promotions. There will be drawings for collectible Budweiser beer steins on Saturday, a drawing for a free trip to Santa Anita the next Saturday, and a series of drawings for what the track calls its "Secret Song Giveaway" throughout the meeting. The winners will gather in the winner's circle to hear a song, and will receive a prize related to the song that plays. One to hope for is the theme from "Mr. Ed," as the prize will be a free racehorse, with all expenses to be paid by the track.

Barns full

Director of racing Jerry Kohls said that all of the track's 830 stalls have been allocated, and that 767 of the stalls were occupied as of last week.

All 10 of the top Thoroughbred trainers at last season's meeting have returned, and trainers Rolland Fergason and Fred Hepton are back after missing the last few seasons. Emerald trainers Robbie Baze, Vince Gibson, and Linda Northam are also stabled on the grounds, as is California trainer Erin Anderson and Hastings Park trainers Terry Clyde, Henry Miller and Troy Taylor.

The jockeys' room is well stocked with 22 riders, including last season's champion Juan Gutierrez and runner-up Bob Webb. The list includes nine women, including Marijo Terleski, Karen Knapp, and Twyla Beckner, who finished fourth through sixth in last season's standings.