After months of internal discussion and planning, Penn National Gaming Inc. said Sept. 24 it will link major stakes at its tracks beginning in 2014.
More than 20 stakes worth a combined $5.5 million will be included in the Penn Gaming Racing Challenge, which will offer bonuses and prizes to horsemen that participate. The list of races will be made available at a later date pending regulatory approvals, but there will be six major event days in the series.
"The Penn Gaming Racing Challenge is a natural and exciting way to tie together the growing lineup of major stakes events at our racetracks," PNGI corporate vice president of racing Chris McErlean said in a release. "Races like the Charles Town Classic (gr. II), Penn Mile, Houston Ladies Classic, and upcoming inaugural Zia Park Oaks exemplify the top-class racing that we offer, and it will be our pleasure to award the leading owner, trainer, and jockey in the 2014 Challenge a trip to the spectacular M Resort."
"We wanted to do something to bind the races across our company's tracks," Eric Zimny, vice president of racing operations at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, said in response to follow-up questions. "We were pretty deliberate and went through several different options before arriving at this one.
"We obviously like the game plan, but it's tough to pin down the end result of a concept that's pretty new. Our hope is that it garners some attention at the outset and develops the same way our individual events have."
The event days center on the Houston Ladies Classic at Sam Houston Race Park in January, the Charles Town Classic at Charles Town in April, the Penn Mile at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in May; the Race for the Ribbon program at Charles Town in September, the Zia Park Oaks and Derby in November, and the Fabulous Strike Handicap at Penn National in November.
PNGI officials said all owners, trainers, and jockeys who participate in the unrestricted stakes on the designated event days will receive two points. Points will be awarded for top-5 finishes in varying scales, based on the value or grade of the race.
The additional points range from the 25 received as a result of a win in a grade II stakes to one point for a fifth-place finish in an unrestricted stakes race worth $50,000-$75,000.
At the end of the Challenge, the owner, trainer, and jockey with the most points will each receive two round-trip airfare tickets and a three-night stay at the 390 room M Resort, a PNGI property in Las Vegas. In addition to the travel rewards, the owner and trainer accumulating the most points at the end of the six events will have their entry and starting fees refunded in any unrestricted stakes race run at a PNGI Thoroughbred track, with the exception of Penn National, for the entire following calendar year.
The Challenge will be divided into six divisions based on race type: 3-year-old and up turf route, 3-year-olds and up turf sprint, 3-year-olds and up dirt sprint, 3-year-olds and up filly and mare dirt sprint, 3-year-olds and up dirt route, and 3-year-olds and up filly and mare dirt route.
Horses running in a race within one division will automatically be nominated free of charge to the following races within that same division. Horses that start in a Challenge race will have all entry and starter fees refunded (excluding supplemental fees) when they start in a subsequent race in the same division.