New Pennsylvania Track to Have Synthetic Surface

Presque Isle Downs, which plans to open Sept. 1 for its inaugural Thoroughbred meet, will have a synthetic surface, and a decision on the manufacturer could be finalized by the end of April.

Presque Isle, located near Erie, Pa., opened for slot-machine gaming in mid-February. The target date to begin full-card simulcasts is mid- to late July, said Rose Mary Williams, director of racing at Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort and corporate secretary for MTR Gaming Group, which owns Mountaineer and Presque Isle Downs.

Presque Isle Downs will offer live racing for 25 nights, six days a week, through the end of September. In 2008, the track expects to offer about 100 nights of racing from late spring through early fall. The one-mile synthetic surface, therefore, will have limited exposure to wild temperature swings.

“It was a decision between the racetrack and horsemen’s group” to install a synthetic surface,” Williams said. “We’re sharing some of the cost.”

Presque Isle Downs horsemen will be represented by the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which also has the horsemen's contract at Penn National Race Course near Harrisburg, Pa. Pennsylvania HBPA president Joe Santanna has said horsemen would prefer a synthetic surface at Presque Isle.

Williams said MTR Gaming officials recently visited Turfway Park and Keeneland, which have Polytrack, and Fair Hill Training Center and Tapeta Farm, where Tapeta Footings is in place for training purposes. She said a decision on the surface could come the week of April 23 so the installation could begin as soon as possible.

As for Mountaineer, the West Virginia track that races year-round under sometimes trying winter weather conditions, MTR Gaming is looking at its options, Williams said. “We have not committed to a synthetic surface at Mountaineer,” she said.

For previous big-ticket projects, such as installation of a new lighting system at Mountaineer, the track and horsemen shared the cost.

This year’s purse account at Presque Isle Downs will have a lot of help before the meet begins. Through mid-April, slots at the facility have generated $27.3 million in gross revenue, which equates to $3.2 million for purses and breed development based on Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board figures.

An off-track betting parlor near Erie is operated by Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. MTR Gaming plans to purchase the OTB parlor, close it, and move employees to Presque Isle Downs, which will become the local home for simulcasts.

Live Thoroughbred racing in the Erie area was inaugurated in 1973 at Commodore Downs which, after a few name changes, closed for good in 1986 and was later demolished.