Anticipation, Optimism at Pennsy 'Day at the Races'

Amid the sound of hammers and drills as Philadelphia Park readies the first two floors of its grandstand in anticipation of slot machines later this year, the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association celebrated "Pennsylvania's Day at the Races" July 29.

Though at times the construction noise drowned out the call of the races, it served as a reminder to those in attendance it is the first step towards bigger purses and rewards for Pennsylvania-breds.

"Our foal crop went from 950 in 2004 to 1,250 in 2005," PHBA president Peter Giangiulo said. "While we don't have the numbers yet for 2006, we expect it to be even bigger than in 2005. I'm big on getting the word out about our program."

Giangiulo, who owns Castle Rock Farm in Unionville, Pa., said that since 2004 more than 100 new stallions were registered with the PHBA.
"We're all getting calls about standing stallions," Giangiulo said. "The quality is going up. We're able to pick and choose which stallions we want."

After several years of watching handle at Pennsylvania racetracks decline, thus affecting the amount of money available to owners and breeders from the PHBA fund, Giangiulo said horsemen can finally expect to see significant increases thanks to slots revenue. "Now we're going to figure out the best way to expand the program," he said.

Many new faces are joining the established ranks of owners and breeders in the state, lured by the promise of bigger purses and owner/breeder bonuses. Trainer Jose Gallegos, who has been at Philadelphia Park since the mid-1970s, said he's seeing more owners getting involved in the breeding end of the business.

"One of my owners, William P. Cook, is new to the game but recently retired two fillies off the track and bred them to Lite the Fuse(who stands at William P. Solomon's Pin Oak Lane Farm in New Freedom, Pa.)," Gallegos said. "I think it's a great time to be investing in Pennsylvania-breds. And as a trainer, you want Pennsylvania-breds in your barn. You're always looking to claim them."

Philly Park is awaiting a conditional slots license, which could come in late September. The plan is to have the machines in place and ready to go when the license is granted by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

Penn National Race Course near Harrisburg also is building a slots casino, and a new Thoroughbred track, Presque Isle Downs, has been licensed to open near Erie. Hearings on conditional slots licenses for all three tracks are scheduled for mid-September.

"Pennsylvania's Day at the Races" featured five stakes for state-breds. Spring Water Farm's S W Aly'svalentine captured the $50,000 Ambassador of Luck Handicap for fillies and mares at seven furlongs; Danny A. Limongelli's Banjo Picker was victorious in the $50,000 Devil's Honor Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at six furlongs; Cleon S. Cassel's R. Earl posted an upset win in the $50,000 Iroquois Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles; Taking Risks Stable's Namequest zipped home in the $50,000 Robert W. Camac Memorial Stakes at five furlongs on the turf; and Ellendale Racing's All Dolled Up led wire to wire in winning the $50,000 Mrs. Penny Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf.