03/02/2013 2:32PM

Will Rogers Downs: Meet to offer $135K a day in purses


Will Rogers Downs in Claremore, Okla., opens its 32-date Thoroughbred meet on Monday with popular local Miranda Diane in the entries and newcomer John Lies in the announcer’s booth. The track will race through May 18, keeping a Monday-through-Wednesday schedule most weeks in March and April, and adding Saturdays in May.

Miranda Diane will make her 8-year-old debut in the eighth race, a five-furlong allowance for fillies and mares. She has compiled a 9-for-12 record at Will Rogers since first racing at the track in March 2009. Last meet, Miranda Diane won two stakes, including the $55,000 RPDC Classic Distaff by more than 13 lengths on the closing-day card.

Lies, who is also the announcer at Lone Star Park near Dallas, will split his time between the two tracks when the Lone Star season opens the second week in April. There are just three dates of conflict, during May, and Will Rogers officials said it is still being determined who would call in Claremore on those days. Jesse Ullery, the former announcer at Will Rogers, is now working as the track’s racing secretary, with Kelly Cathey, a longtime official with Will Rogers, now a steward at Remington Park in Oklahoma City.

Will Rogers, which has a casino featuring 250 electronic gaming machines, is projecting purses will average $135,000 a day, the same as last year, said Ullery. The stakes schedule is made up of eight stakes worth more than $400,000. Some of them will be run on Tuesdays, including the $55,000 TRAO Classic Sprint for Oklahoma-breds April 9 and the $50,000 Clem McSpadden Memorial Route 66 on April 23, a race that could draw the 9-year-old stakes winner Humble Smarty. Other highlights of the stakes schedule include a $55,000 route double for Oklahoma-breds on May 18, the Cherokee Nation Classic Cup and the RPDC Classic Distaff.

Roger Engel, the two-time defending training champ at Will Rogers, is back for the new meet, said Ullery. He will seek to extend his streak against a strong group of trainers that includes Boyd Caster, Andy Gladd, Joe Offolter, and 2010 title winner Mike Teel. Jockey Curtis Kimes, who has won the Will Rogers riding title in 2010, 2011, and 2012, will be active on the opening-day card. Others making up the colony include Travis Cunningham, Benny Landeros, and Bryan McNeil.

Will Rogers handled $20.5 million on its live races from all sources during the Thoroughbred meet last year, an increase of $6 million over the 2011 season, according to figures from the track. This year, the Will Rogers signal will again have wide exposure to offtrack markets, including New York Racing Association tracks and TVG, said Ullery.

“Our races will be seen on four different continents this year,” he said in an e-mail.

First post daily is 1 p.m. Central.