The year 2008 has brought another purse increase to Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack, but the Pennsylvania track and other tracks in the Mid-Atlantic region are expected to continue competing for horses as the year progresses.
From Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2007, purses at the Pennsylvania racetrack averaged $236,266 per day. According to The Jockey Club, total purses paid for the year topped $47.9 million at the track, which began operating slot machines in December 2006.
The first condition book of 2008 shows purse increases of roughly 7%-14% depending on the class of the race. For example, the purse for a maiden special weight sprint will go from $35,000 to $40,000, an increase of 14%. An open $25,000-$20,000 claiming test going long will go for $33,000, up 10% from $30,000. The bottom purse, for $5,000 claimers of various conditions, will be $14,000, up about 7% from $13,000 at the end of 2007.
Purses and breed development funds earn 12% of gross slots revenue at each racetrack in Pennsylvania. In November 2007 alone, that percentage produced $2.7 million at Philly Park, according to Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board statistics. Figures for other months are comparable.
For 203 racing programs in 2007, field size at Philly Park averaged 8.01 horses per race. That figure had been hovering below eight, but the end of racing seasons in Delaware and New Jersey in early November helped boost field size.
In addition, Penn National Race Course will be closed until Feb. 12, when live racing returns at a new racing/gaming facility. The almost two-month break should help field size at Philly Park.
Competition for horses in the region is fierce, so much so that racetrack officials are working together to perhaps coordinate schedules in the future.
During the recent University of Arizona Symposium on Racing & Gaming, Sal Sinatra, director of racing at Philly Park, said there have been discussions about racing dates—the track is mandated to run 199 per year—as well as racing programs at tracks in neighboring states.
Field size is an issue throughout the region, in which trainers regularly ship from track to track in search of the best spots.
“We had a meeting to try to figure out the best way to complement each other rather than steal each others’ horses,” Sinatra said.
With up to 40% in bonuses available to Pennsylvania-bred horses that place in races at Philly Park, state-bred runners are becoming more valuable, Sinatra said. In 2004, when the gaming legislation became law, the Thoroughbred foal crop was about 950; one year later it jumped to 1,250.
With more ship-ins at Philly Park—roughly 40 per program—the racing office is tinkering with the condition book to ensure locally based trainers have options for their stock.
“It’s kind of scary,” Sinatra said. “In order to protect my horsemen, we have to come up with some new categories (of races).”
Currently, Charles Town Races & Slots in West Virginia and Laurel Park in Maryland are the other tracks racing live in the Mid-Atlantic region. Racing returns to Delaware and New Jersey in April.