Presque Isle Ready for Second Season

Presque Isle Downs, Pennsylvania's newest track, is set to begin its second season.

From Presque Isle Downs

Live Thoroughbred racing will return to the Erie, Pa., area May 9 when Presque Isle Downs commences its 2008 meet. Presque Isle’s 100-day season will extend through Sept. 27, with a daily post time of 5:30 p.m. EDT.

Last year, Presque Isle’s inaugural meet was 25 days in length and generated averages of 2,851 in daily attendance, $58,257 in daily on-track wagering, and $585,680 in daily wagering from all sources. It was the first pari-mutuel held in the Erie area since Commodore Downs ceased operations two decades ago.

 “We’ve got the money, we’ve got the surface, and I anticipate a very good meet here,” said David Frizzell, racing secretary at Presque Isle. Frizzell anticipates an average purse distribution of about $180,000 per race card. Races will be conducted on Presque Isle’s one-mile Tapeta Footings surface.

The Presque Isle season will be anchored by 25 stakes, a baker’s dozen of which will be open events, and the remaining 12 restricted to horses sired and/or bred in Pennsylvania. Highlighting the stakes program will be the second running of the $400,000 Presque Isle Downs Masters, which will be contested at six furlongs for fillies and mares, 3 years old and up, on Sept. 13.

Many of the horses who won stakes at Presque Isle last year have gone on to achieve other major accomplishments. One example is Elite Squadron, who was a half-length winner of the Tom Ridge Labor Day Stakes at Presque Isle, and May 3 was a 4 ½-length winner of the grade II Churchill Downs Stakes.

Eight races will be run at Presque Isle each day. The May 9 opening card, which attracted 58 horses, will include the second running of the $100,000 Inaugural Stakes at six-furlongs for 3-year-old fillies.

The Inaugural Stakes will be carded as the seventh race, and among the participants is American County, who is trained Dale Romans. On Jan. 26, American County was a 1 ½-length winner of the Sunshine Millions Oaks at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. At age two, American County finished third in a pair of grade III events, the Debutante Stakes at Churchill Downs and the Sorrento Stakes at Del Mar.

Steve Asmussen, who conditions the 2007 Horse the Year, Curlin, and who led all North American trainers in 2007 with 488 victories, plans to maintain a 40-horse string this season at Presque Isle. Last year, the Asmussen stable registered 10 wins and 36 placings at Presque Isle, and led the standings in purse earnings with $847,975.

“The assistants for Asmussen have made it clear that this is not one of their ‘B’ strings or ‘C’ strings they will have at Presque Isle--it’s an ‘A’ string,” Frizzell said. Among the clients Asmussen trains for is Maggi Moss, who was an Eclipse Award finalist in 2007 as North America’s outstanding owner.

Among the other trainers with strings at Presque Isle this year are H. Graham Motion, Niall O’Callaghan, Michael Maker, Chris Englehart, Tim Hamm, and Glenn Wismer. Justin Nixon will condition a 20-horse string for Frank Stronach, who has received multiple Eclipse Awards as North America’s outstanding breeder and owner.

Presque Isle’s full-time jockey colony will include Ryan Fogelsonger, who received the Eclipse as North America’s outstanding apprentice in 2002, and Willie Martinez, who has won nine riding titles at Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky.  

Miguel Mena, who led the Presque Isle standings with 35 victories (on 35 different horses) in 2007, is expected to bring his tack here later in the meet. Mena rode at Fair Grounds this past winter and at Keeneland this spring, and currently is based at Churchill Downs.

Last year, 25.5% of the races at Presque Isle were won by favorites. Thirty-five percent of the races were decided by winning margins of a half-length or less. The average return for a $2 win ticket was $15.96, and the average return for a $2 exacta was $126.65.