Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races will try a promotion that has been successful at other racetracks when it holds a starter allowance tournament scheduled to begin in March 2012.
The tournament will be open to horses that have started for a claiming price of $5,000 or less since Jan. 1, 2011. The West Virginia track plans two elimination rounds and a final that will be held April 14, the night of the grade II Charles Town Classic.
Portland Meadows in Oregon in November offered its first McFadden Memorial Sprint Claiming Series that ended with a $26,000 final. Horses first competed for a $2,500 tag and then a $4,000 tag in an effort to generate action at the claim box.
Horses were awarded points depending on their finishes in each leg in the Portland Meadows series, and they had to compete in both legs to qualify for the final. The Charles Town tournament will be different in that horses will be weighted and seeded.
The quarterfinals will each carry a purse of $25,000 and be run at 6 1/2 furlongs March 3. The semifinals will each be worth $30,000 at seven furlongs March 24. The final will go for $55,000 and be run at 1 1/16 miles.
“We had discussed it for a while, received some positive feedback on the idea, and thought it would be good to try,” Charles Town director of racing operations Erich Zimny said. “We hope that the tournament-style form that most casual sports fans recognize will help generate some interest in following horses over a period of weeks.”
Nominations for the series will close Feb. 18, 2012, with weights and quarterfinal races posted Feb. 25, Zimny said.
Harness racing, which often uses the elimination format for stakes, has experimented with the tournament format for decades. Monticello Raceway in upstate New York was one of the first in the early 1990s when it held a weekly "March Madness” tournament for claimers that culminated in a final.