By Rick Teverbaugh
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — With 2-year-olds primed and ready to go and purses up 10 percent across the board, Hoosier Park is headed into the heat of summer with a surge of momentum.
For the first time, the Anderson track is going into a long harness racing season, and there was caution used in deciding on an initial purse structure.
"We started with a conservative purse structure," said Rick Moore, general manager of racing at Hoosier Park. "We were about at $100,000 a day, and through the first 55 races we were holding our own."
The wagering coming in from the simulcasts of the live HP races has been strong through the opening third of the meet, up 20.3 percent from a year ago. So beginning June 18, purses were increased by 10 percent across the board.
"I've always been a proponent of the idea that momentum is important, and we got off to a good start," said Moore. "We had a super Dan Patch (Invitational). Our handle was up 44 percent that day and up 32 percent on the Dan Patch itself."
Ricky Macomber, who looks at racing as a driver, trainer and breeder, is encouraged.
"The increase (in purses) makes me want to buy more horses so I can take advantage of the purses," said Macomber, who is fifth among all drivers in wins this season at HP. "I am fortunate to have the (trainer) Ron Burke account. I am showing my loyalty to him."
The colony of horses at the Anderson track is one of the strengths that has attracted wagering from all over the country.
"We've been able to card 12 or 13 races all of the time," said Hoosier Park racing secretary Kevin Mack. "We are a little short in the top classes, but then everybody is. The 2-year-olds start racing next week."
The first portion of the harness season reaches its climax on July 20 with Hoosier Champions Night, where the best horses in the state will compete for over $1 million in purses.
Normally the standardbred horsemen would be a few weeks away from packing up and heading to Indiana Downs. But now they will be in Anderson through early November. All the stakes races normally run at Indiana Downs in the summer will instead be held at Hoosier Park — with a few changes.
"We've renamed them all," said Mack. "We will have a Madison County Stakes and a Carl Erskine Stakes."
Without the need to convert the track from standardbred to thoroughbred, the surface has been honed for the needs of harness racing.
"This is the best the track's ever been here," said Don Eash, who trains, drives and breeds horses from his home base in Greenfield. "It just doesn't get muddy when we get hard rain. It has been very good."
All through this season fans have been witness to construction taking place inside the facility.
"We are finishing the final stages of phase one," said Moore of the construction. "We are starting phase two. The focal point of that will be a 1,250-seat showroom. That will be available in the late fall. Our new face to Club Centaur just opened. We will have a new skin on our canopy. We will have a new gift shop."
There are also some on-track milestones that are very near. Ed Hensley, who is second this season in driving wins to Trace Tetrick, is just 15 wins away from 5,000 going into tonight's racing. Mike Micallef is just a single win shy of 2,000.
Live harness racing runs from Tuesday through Saturday each week with a first post each day of 5:30 p.m.