Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course held its first-ever racing program Nov. 24 before a fairly large crowd on a wild weather day in northeastern Ohio.
Mahoning Valley, owned by Penn National Gaming Inc., is the replacement for Beulah Park, the Columbus-area track that held its last live race in early May. PNGI received permission to move the Beulah Park license to the Youngstown area to construct a racetrack with video lottery terminals.
The barn area, with almost 1,000 stalls, has been well received by horsemen who plan to winter at the facility.
"They're still getting all the kinks worked out, but I think they tried to do a good job," said trainer Tim Hamm, who has 24 horses on the grounds and the rest of his stable in Florida. "I like the backside. It's very nice all in all for winter racing. The track has been deep so far, so they'll have to get it tightened up a bit."
The first race, for $4,000 claimers at one mile and 70 yards, was won by the favorite, Baby Time, owned by Sola Del Gloria Stable, Edward Warner, and Linda White. The 7-year-old Timekeeper gelding is trained by Hugh McMahon, who shipped him from Laurel Park in Maryland, and was ridden by Luis Colon.
The final time of 1:49.52 was rather slow for the distance, but a strong homestretch headwind that sometimes gusted to 30 miles per hour didn't help. The dirt surface was rated good for the card.
The feature, a $22,000 allowance race for Ohio-bred fillies and mares, was captured easily by Loooch Racing Stable's Caviar N Champagne for trainer Jeff Radosevich and jockey Scott Spieth. The 5-year-old Formal Dinner mare, who covered six furlongs in 1:14.58 as the heavy choice in the wagering, now has four wins and three seconds in seven starts this year, including three stakes wins, and is a strong candidate for Ohio Horse of the Year.
Temperatures to start the program were in the mid-60s, unusual for the area in late November. The wind and occasional showers made it feel 10 degrees cooler.
A brief double rainbow that appeared over the paddock and far turn before the fourth race was a welcome sight for the superstitious, though some of the locals in the crowd were talking about the cold and snow to come in the valley, which is located about 60 miles south of Lake Erie.
Light snow is in the forecast for the second day of racing.
Ohio State Racing Commission member Mark Munroe, who lives in the Mahoning Valley, noted the last race at a non-fair track in the area was run July 15, 1915, at Southern Park in nearby Boardman. It is believed the track offered Thoroughbred and harness racing.
There are several county fair tracks in the area that hold limited pari-mutuel harness racing a few days each year.
"Here we are now, almost 100 years later, and racing is back in the Mahoning Valley," Munroe said. "It was a challenge getting here, but my hat is off to Penn Gaming. They did a fabulous job with this place. It has been a great collaborative effort."
"This is a historic day for racing in Ohio and the Mahoning Valley," said Mark Loewe, director of Ohio racing operations for PNGI. "This couldn't have happened without monumental contributions from many organizations and individuals."
Purses at Mahoning Valley will start out at an average of $55,000-$60,000 a day for eight-race cards. But VLT play in a little more than two months has been strong, and a purse overpayment of about $3 million at Beulah Park already has been eliminated.
According to the Ohio Lottery Commission, from Sept. 17, the day VLTs became operational, through the end of October, Mahoning Valley generated $14.55 million in revenue from about 850 machines.
The 2014 race meet runs through Dec. 30. The 2015 meet begins Jan. 5 and extends through late April. The track will follow the racing schedule formerly employed by Beulah Park.