More Than Money on Line in Presque Isle 'Masters'

The inaugural Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes will start a new tradition in horse racing, courtesy of MTR Gaming Group and a longtime tailor in Erie, Penn.

Questions sometimes arise as to the naming of various stakes, and such is the case with the inaugural Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes, which kind of came from out of the blue.

If you think it has something to do with golf, namely The Masters at Augusta National Golf Course in Georgia, you’re correct. But the centerpiece of the 25-night meet at the new track near Erie, Pa., is all about six furlongs, not 18 holes.

So what’s the connection? It’s the jacket--though it won't be green like the one at Augusta.

Edson “Ted” Arneault, president of Presque Isle Downs owner MTR Gaming Group, has been using the services of Roberto Angelone, an Italian tailor who has been in business in Erie since 1962, for many years. When track officials were putting together the stakes schedule for Presque Isle, something clicked.

“I told (Angelone) I’d like to make this race distinct,” Arneault said. “We needed something special. The race is for fillies and mares, so that’s a little bit different, but we’re trying to get something unique to Presque Isle.”

The winning trainer of the Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes will receive a hand-tailored, old-style English jacket, Arneault said. Angelone purchased all the available cloth from a company in Great Britain to make a jacket that will be “blue like the lake in Erie,” Arneault said.

So after the inaugural running of the stakes the evening of Sept. 15, the winning trainer will be presented with a wooden box filled with the cloth. Angelone will then take the measurements and make a jacket for the man or woman that wins the race.

“The jacket will be really unique for the winning trainer--maybe it will take on an aura like The Masters (golf tournament),” Arneault said. “I think anybody would love to win it. This is a brand-new racetrack, and we don’t have any traditions yet. There’s really nothing like this in racing.

“We’re building on something, and trying to get a little flair.”

The Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes also is lucrative financially. The purse is $400,000, which makes it the richest race of the meet. In addition, the event has been slotted to serve as a prep for the new $1-million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint Oct. 26 at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.

Entries for the Masters Stakes were to be drawn Sept. 12. There are two $175,000 stakes on the Saturday night program as well.

Arneault said the meet, which began Sept. 1, is a challenge, but not an unexpected one. The slot-machine casino at Presque Isle is doing very well, but pari-mutuel handle has been light.

“When you’ve left a market for 20 years, it’s actually a new market,” Arneault said of the fact Erie hasn’t hosted Thoroughbred racing since 1987, when Erie Downs closed. “Also, this is a short meet that’s not at the prime of the Erie tourist season. But I think people are getting acclimated to it. We had to take the first step this year.”

In 2008, Presque Isle expects to race about 100 nights from May to September during the height of tourist season.