Surface Woes Lead to Penn National Cancellations

Following the refusal of jockeys to ride the remainder of the live card after two races had been completed Jan. 7, Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Pa., announced Jan. 9 it would cancel live racing and training for this week while attempts are made to fix "inconsistent" portions of the racing surface.

The live card Jan. 6 had also been canceled due to similar concerns about the surface.

"The track had some low areas which held moisture," said Todd Mostoller, executive director of the Pennsylvania Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents Penn National horsemen. "They are primarily located on the turns and coming out of the turns, one being between the quarter pole and the three-sixteenths pole, and another between the seven-eighths pole and the three-quarter pole.

"On (Jan. 7), there were some concerns from trainers about the safety of the track, and they were able to scratch without penalty if they made the choice not to run. Right now, they understand management is taking the appropriate steps to fix the problem."

Mostoller said he doesn't have a timetable for when live racing would resume, but said he is cautiously optimistic entries would be drawn for the Wednesday-through-Saturday cards of Jan. 18-21.

The surface at Penn National, which is owned by Penn National Gaming Inc., has been troublesome since mid-December, when freezing rain and an ice storm forced the cancellation of six straight cards, from Dec. 14-22. Management, however, was upset the jockeys rode the first two races Jan. 7 and then left the track without notifying officials of their intentions.

"Weather-related winter cancellations are an inconvenience to our fans, the horsemen, and our employees," track general manager Gary Luderitz said in a release. "That being said, they are also a part of the business and can be understood when they are handled in a professional manner. What happened here (Jan. 7) is not acceptable."

Luderitz couldn't be immediately reached for further comment.

Penn National's former track superintendent, Jay Fortney, now a consultant at Charles Town Races & Slots, a West Virginia racino also owned by PNGI, is directing the track maintenance staff's effort to fix the inconsistent areas on the racetrack. In late summer and early fall of 2004, Charles Town was plagued by racing-surface drainage problems that led to multiple cancellations.

PNGI in late December announced plans to spend $212 million to build a slot-machine casino at Penn National sometime this year. The slots license issued by the state will cost another $50 million.