BY SCOTT HUNTER HADDOW
Tonight, the ground will tremble at Sudbury Downs once again as 111 horses stampede around the track in 11 races. The 2003 harness racing season kicks off. Post time is 7:15 pm.
There are plenty of changes this season for fans. The biggest is the scheduling change, as FridayÂ?s racing back to the original Wednesday night. The races will still continue on Saturdays.
Â?We were hopeful Friday and Saturday would give us two good weekend nights,Â? said Ken Le Drew, general manager. Â?It didnÂ?t show a significant increase over the Wednesday and Saturday format.Â?
The weekend schedule experiment ends after just two years.
Â?People going away to camp on weekends can now go to the track during the week again,Â? he said.
This is the 29th year of harness racing in Sudbury and with each passing year it has grown.
Â?There was a time when we used to have a shortage of horses after the winter,Â? said Le Drew. Â?To start this season we may in fact have more than 200 trotters that are eligible to race.Â?
A contingent of Quebec-based racers has arrived in Sudbury to rival local drivers. Danny Gerrard arrived with five horses, Stephane Pouliot arrived with nine steeds and Jean Francois Maguire shipped in with nine pacers. There are also a couple of southern Ontario racers coming. Colonel Schneider Jr. and Ottis Hall are shipping in to compete against SudburyÂ?s finest.
Â?The purses are a big reason for racers coming to Sudbury,Â? said Le Drew. Â?The anticipated average purse will topple $60,000 every race day.Â?
The Slots are a big reason behind the large purse money.
Â?The implementation of slots at race track programs has resulted in a soaring purse structure at the Downs.Â?
The big money has made Sudbury the place to race.
Â?Last year one racer, Robert Jenkins Jr. exceeded over $600,000 in purse winnings,Â? said Le Drew.
Â?We had a number of drivers win over $200,000.Â?
Harness racing has become a lucrative business in Sudbury and has come a long way from the prize purses of $1000 per race in the eighties.
Â?A race horse has become a very good investment for people in Sudbury because you get a good return on your money,Â? said Le Drew. Â?ItÂ?s no longer a hobby sport.Â?
On race nights and at the teletheatre locations seven days a week will see the return of the Standardbred signal.
Â?We will have racing from Mohawk/Woodbine, The Meadowlands, Windsor, Flamboro, Georgian, Rideau-Carleton Raceway and other tracks across the country.Â?
Big events to mark on the calendar are the Sudbury Downs Ontario Sires Stakes races. The three-year-old trotting fillies will race July 12, the three-year-old pacing fillies compete Aug. 30, The two-year-old colt pacers run Sept. 6 and the two-year-old colt trotters compete Sept. 13.