03/03/2012 1:20PM

Will Rogers Downs finds its niche on Mondays, Tuesdays

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Will Rogers Downs, the Claremore, Okla., track that experienced a significant growth in handle last year, will try to build on that momentum Monday, when it opens for a 32-date meet for Thoroughbreds. The season will run through May 19.

Will Rogers will race every Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday, a schedule it adopted in 2010 and one that has helped the small track carve out a niche in the simulcast market. Last year, Will Rogers averaged about $500,000 a day in handle on its races on Mondays and Tuesdays, said Kelly Cathey, track operation manager at Will Rogers.

“Our offtrack handle was improved 86 percent from the year before,” Cathey said. “We try not to be a small fish in a big lake on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Mondays and Tuesdays help us sell our signal. We almost hit $1 million one day last meet. I think this year we will. We’ve got a lot of people interested in us.”

Cathey said Will Rogers will be going into seven new simulcast sites in Canada this meet. And the track’s races will again be carried on TVG, he said, a year after the racing network first took races from Claremore.

One of Will Rogers’s main selling points is its large field sizes, Cathey said. The track averaged 9.75 starters per race last season, he said. A strong purse structure has helped fuel entries. Will Rogers, a Cherokee Nation-owned property that features a ontrack casino with 250 gaming machines, is projecting purses will average $185,000 a day this meet.

The figure is about the same as a year ago, while the track has added two new stakes to its schedule, raising the total of added-money events to eight. The new stakes are for 3-year-olds and up bred in Oklahoma, each at a mile and 70-yards on May 19. The Cherokee Nation Classic Cup and the RPDC Classic Distaff, restricted to fillies and mares, will have an estimated purse of $55,000. The first four stakes of the meet, on April 9 and 10 and April 23 and 24, have been moved to Mondays and Tuesdays after previously being run on Saturdays.

Will Rogers, which is located about 30 miles northeast of Tulsa, has a full barn area for the meet, said Cathey. The track can house 632 horses. Cathey said he had requests for 2,200 stalls, and heading into the season Monday has 1,500 sets of foal papers on file.

“We’re full as always,” he said.

The training ranks include divisions from Karl Broberg and Kenny Smith. Roger Engel, the defending training champ, and Kenny Nolen, Joe Offolter and Mike Teel are also on hand for the meet. New faces include trainers Francisco Bravo and Brent Davidson. The riding colony includes defending champ Curtis Kimes, as well as Ron Barber, Travis Cunningham, Jose Figueroa, Curtis Kimes, Nena Matz, Glen Murphy, and Floyd Wethey Jr.

Miranda Diane, a multiple stakes winner who is 7 for 8 at Will Rogers, and Miss Natalie, a stakes winner last year in Claremore, meet in the ninth race Monday, a five-furlong allowance for fillies and mares. The purse is $25,000.

First post is 12:30 p.m. Central.