10/03/2008 12:00AM

Won't be easy to top last year


Coming off a strong meeting that included a 22 percent increase in handle on the track's races and its first million-dollar handle day in recent history, Portland Meadows opens its 62nd season Sunday with hopes that it can keep the ball rolling.

"We had a great 2007-08 meet," general manager Will Alempijevic said. "We really just want to keep building on that success."

The 64-day Portland Meadows meet offers racing on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays through January, and on Mondays and Tuesdays from February until closing day, March 24, 2009. Portland Meadows is owned by Magna Entertainment Corp., which announced last year that it is trying to sell the track and its operating license.

A total of $1,114,528 was wagered on Portland Meadows races last Dec. 18, which track officials believe was Oregon's largest single-day handle, Alempijevic said. Monday handle averaged more than $580,000, and Tuesday handle topped $720,000 during last year's meet, both record averages, he said.

Alempijevic said Portland Meadows has benefitted from racing on days when many tracks are dark.

"We're in our third year of the Sunday-Monday-Tuesday schedule," Alempijevic said. "We're pleased how people have responded. We're picked up in a lot more places. Last year, we shortened our meet, and it helped field size."

The Portland Meadows 800-stall barn will soon be full, Alempijevic said, and the track added a 10th race to what was a planned nine-race opening-day card.

Northern California trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who has saddled more than 5,000 winners, has sent 21 horses to the meet. Jim Fergason and Jonathan Nance, who usually compete for the training title, also will have their usual strong barns.

The $18,000 Inaugural Handicap, a six-furlong sprint, drew a strong field of seven on opening day. Among the seven in the field are defending champion Rockinstomper; Emancipated, who is coming off a victory in the one-mile Trooper Seven at Emerald Downs; and Ex Mountain Cop, who won all four starts here in stakes races two years ago as a 2-year-old.

Portland Meadows will once again offer its popular daily pick five, a $1 wager. If no one selects five winners, the entire pool is carried over.

In an effort to attract and educate fans, track announcer Jason Beem will host a "Handicapping 101" class, to be held the last Sunday of each month.