02/03/2015 11:00AM

Elliott seeks to simplify condition books at Parx

Suffolk Downs
Sam Elliott is Parx Racing's director of racing and racing secretary.

A few months ago, Sam Elliott knew little more about Parx Racing than that it used to be Philadelphia Park. Now, he is the director of racing and racing secretary at the Bensalem, Pa., racino, having replaced Sal Sinatra, who left after a long tenure to become general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club.

Elliott, the vice president of racing at Suffolk Downs since 2008, was put out of work when the track lost its bid for the Boston-area casino license last September and held its final day of racing Oct. 4.

When the Parx position opened, Elliott made some phone calls to drum up support for his former racing secretary at Suffolk, Tommy Creel. During one conversation, he learned that Joe Wilson, the chief operating officer of Parx, already had a shortlist for the job and that Elliott himself was on it.

Elliott contacted Wilson, and they set up an interview, which would be Elliott’s first visit to Parx. He was impressed with what he found.

“Joe and I spoke for three hours, and it was all about racing, not about the casino or anything else,” Elliott said. “I left with the feeling there was a commitment to racing here.”

Elliott took the job, and Creel is now the track’s stall man.

Elliott, 57, thinks Parx is a good place to race and wants to attract new stables. He also has been tinkering with the condition book in an attempt to improve the caliber of racing.

“This is one of the best setups for horsemen I’ve seen, especially those with families,” he said. “The purses are good, you can stay here year-round, and the cost of living is relatively low. I’m going to try and get some of the better New England horsemen to come here in the spring.”

Elliott said condition books at a lot of tracks have gotten too complicated as racing secretaries have tried to improve field size by opening races up to larger pools of horses. He wants to simplify allowance races so that young horses starting out have a better chance of going through their eligibility conditions.

“There are too many ways to get into races,” Elliott said. “Every horse is born a maiden, and they should be able to go through their conditions. I want to start writing allowance races with lifetime conditions – nonwinners of two, nonwinners of three – instead of ‘other than’ conditions where a horse who has won seven or eight races can jump in and have a big experience advantage.”

As many tracks now do, Parx cards a lot of conditioned claiming races. Elliott wants to get back to writing open claiming races.

“I think they’re more vital,” he said.

Last weekend, Elliott had open, $20,000 claiming races Saturday and Sunday and a no-conditions allowance with a $54,000 purse on Sunday.

“When you get to be an open horse, it’s hard on the horsemen to find places to run,” he said. “They told me I couldn’t make an open allowance race, but we did.”

Elliott, a native of Rochester, N.Y., was introduced to racing by his parents, who used to take the family on day trips to Finger Lakes. He graduated from the University of Arizona Racetrack Industry Program in the early 1980s and got his first job as a racing official working for Mervin Muniz at Evangeline Downs.

From there, he went to work for John Morrissey at Rockingham. He was the assistant racing secretary at Suffolk from 1992 to 2003 and a Massachusetts state steward at Suffolk in 2006-07 before returning to the racing office.

“You can lean a program to a better horse, and that’s what I’m going to try to do here,” Elliott said. “I don’t know if I can do it, but that’s what I want to do.”