Presque Isle to Offer $500,000 a Night in Purses

Presque Isle Downs will offer an average of $500,000 per program in purses during its inaugural 25-night meet in September.

In terms of money, it will be Del Mar, Keeneland, and Saratoga in northwestern Pennsylvania when Presque Isle Downs offers an inaugural 25-night meet with an average of $500,000 per program in purses.

Management and horsemen are putting the finishing touches on the condition book and stakes schedule for the meet, which runs from Sept. 1-Sept. 29 near Erie. It’s projected that about $13 million--most of it revenue from slot machines that began operating earlier this year--will have to be paid out during the first live meet at Presque Isle by law.

The condition book will reflect base purses, but in reality the payouts will be 75% higher under a scheme devised by track owner MTR Gaming Group and the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. First place will earn 75% of the advertised purse, followed by second place at 45%, third place at 20%, four place at 15%, fifth place at 10%, sixth place at 5%, seventh place at 3%, and eighth place at 2%.

Thus, the lowest purse--$14,000 for $10,000 maiden claimers and $5,000 claimers that haven’t won in six months--is actually worth $24,500. A $40,000 maiden special weight event is worth $70,000. The highest overnight purse--$50,000 for an open allowance race--will be $87,500 under the supplement plan.

(For a $40,000 maiden race, the winner would get $30,000 and the second-place horse $18,000, for example.)

The stakes schedule, at about $1.7 million, includes the $400,000 Presque Isle Downs Master Stakes for fillies and mares at six furlongs Sept. 15. Officials said they hope the stakes serves as a potential prep for the new $1-million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in late October.

The Sept. 15 card will include the $175,000 Presque Isle Mile for 3-year-olds and up at one mile, and the $175,000 Karl Boyes Memorial Northwestern Pa. Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at 5 1/2 furlongs.

Presque Isle, where the racetrack is one mile in circumference, will be the first to use a Tapeta Footings surface for racing. The synthetic Tapeta surface developed by trainer Michael Dickinson also is being installed at Golden Gate Fields in Northern California.

“This has really been a joint effort with the horsemen,” said Rose Mary Williams, director of racing at Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort, which also is owned by MTR Gaming. “We’ve worked together well to make it a really good meet, and the synthetic surface will be a plus.”

Pennsylvania HBPA president Joe Santanna noted the purses for the first Presque Isle meet will be the highest in Pennsylvania racing history. “When I looked over the first condition book, I said, ‘This can’t be a racetrack in Pennsylvania,’ ” Santanna said.

The Erie area has been without live Thoroughbred racing since 1987, when Erie Downs held its last meet. The track, previously called Commodore Downs, which opened in 1973, catered to lower-level claiming horses.

For its final meet 20 years ago, Erie Downs offered 79 days of racing with an average purse of $1,500, according to the Racing Manual. The fifth-place finisher in a $5,000 claiming race will earn that much this year at Presque Isle.

Santanna said if gaming projections hold, Presque Isle should be able to offer about $300,000 a night over 100 programs in 2008. So the published purses in this year’s condition book reflect what purses should look like next year.

Presque Isle has received about 45 stall applications thus far, but that could change when the condition book is officially released. “I think you’ll find they’ll be coming in from all over the country,” Williams said.

Presque Isle will offer eight races per program on a Wednesday-through-Monday schedule with post time at 5:30 p.m. Eastern time. On Sept. 21, Pennsylvania breeders will have their night at the races with six $90,000 stakes for state-breds.