August 30, 2007
Opening Card Drawn for Presque Isle Meet
By Bill Mooney
Seventy-seven horses have drawn post positions for the opening card at Presque Isle Downs, which will be run this Saturday, September 1. The first and featured race, the $100,000 Inaugural Stakes for three-year-old fillies at six furlongs, has lured a field of ten. Post time for the eight-race card will be 5:30 p.m. EDT.
At that point, it will be 19 years, 11 months and 24 days since a pari-mutuel horse race was last run in the Erie area (at what was formerly Commodore/Erie Downs). "This will really be something to celebrate," said Allan Plever, the agent for jockey Terry Houghton, who will ride the multiple allowance winner L's Lightning in the Inaugural Stakes.
Plever, age 55, is a former racing secretary at Keystone (now Philadelphia Park), Penn National Race Course and Detroit Race Course. "Trainers, without dissent, keep talking about how good the (Tapeta) racing surface is at Presque Isle," he said. "That's amazing, because horsemen almost never are in unanimous agreement concerning anything."
During the final season at Commodore/Erie, purses averaged $13,991 per day. A sum well more than four times larger, $60,000, will be earned by the filly who wins the Inaugural States
The lineup for the Inaugural Stakes includes four contenders who are already stakes winners, and two others who are stakes-placed. Predicting a post-time favorite is a difficult chore, but it might be Cantrel, who won the Wonders Delight Stakes at Penn National on May 17 by a spectacular 18 ¼ lengths.
Cantrel, the only Pennsylvania-bred in the race, is trained by Scott Lake, has drawn the rail and will be ridden in the Inaugural Stakes by David Cohen, who is based at Philadelphia. Cantrel already has five victories on her career resume, and all of them have been achieved at the six-furlong distance.
Unforgotten, a filly from the barn of former D. Wayne Lukas assistant Dallas Stewart, has registered two consecutive victories. She broke her maiden by 4 ¾ lengths at Churchill Downs on June 20, and in July was an allowance winner at Arlington Park. Unforgotten will exit the number two post, and be ridden in the Inaugural Stakes by Eddie Martin Jr.
A filly also likely to generate a lot of action in the wagering pools is Dicey Girl, who won her initial two career starts at Delaware Park this spring, and then finished a strong third in the Weekend Surprise Stakes at Saratoga. Trained by Steve Klesaris, Dicey Girl will break from the seven post. Mario Pino, who is one of the greatest jockeys in the history of Maryland racing with nearly 6,000 career victories, has been named to ride her.
Steve Asmussen, who leads this year's North American trainer standings with 313 wins, will send Tres Dream postward in the Inaugural Stakes. A come-from-behind runner, Tres Dream, in her most recent effort, registered a 5 ¼-length victory in the six-furlong Ponca City Stakes at Remington Park. She will break from the number eight post on Saturday under Corey Lanerie.
The width of the Presque Isle oval can accommodate 12 starters, and the second race on Saturday's card, a 5 ½-furlong event for maiden two-year-old fillies bred in Pennsylvania, has a full field.
Included in the group is a filly trained by Asmussen, who in 2004 set an all-time single-season record for wins, with 555; and a filly trained by Dale Baird, who is the all-time career leader with over 9,400 victories.
The secondary feature a 6 ½-furlong allowance for three-year-olds and upwards, has been carded as the seventh race. Asmussen has a pair of horses in the race, a graded stakes-placed horse named Santana Springs and an Irish-bred gelding named Kingsgate Bay, who has won three times on artificial surfaces in England. Santana Springs and Kingsgate Bay have been entered as separate wagering entities in the seven-horse field, and will be ridden by Martin and Lanerie, respectively.
Artificial surfaces are relatively new things for horse racing, and concern has been voiced by some handicappers and horsemen that they produce slow times. Judging from morning workouts, however, this will not be the case at Presque Isle. A horse named Grifton work three furlongs over the Tapeta surface in a time of :35.6 on Wednesday morning, and two other horses named De Brandon Boy and Warrior's Vow each worked four furlongs in clockings of :47-flat.
For Plever, the excitement of a new race track never grows stale. "When I was a student at West Virginia University, I used to skip classes and hitchhike to Pitt Park near Pittsburgh," he said. "Once I arrived there, I had no plan for getting back, but I didn't care. I was at the races. Man, this is going to be great."
Presque Isle Notes: Jockey Joe Stokes, who won the 1999 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Race Track with Stellar Brush, plans to commute between Mountaineer and Presque Isle during the latter track's 25-day meet. Mountaineer does not race on Wednesdays and Thursdays, but Presque Isle will, and Stokes' name is likely to show up on the local entry sheets with frequency on those days. . . word from the Maryland circuit is that Pino may ride regularly at Presque Isle on Thursdays and Fridays . . . a reminder – general parking and admission will be free at Presque Isle throughout the meet.