02/03/2015 12:00PM

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.”

Lawrence Mason More than 1 year ago
robert More than 1 year ago
I cant paint a different picture of these two guys but I wont start that discussion here, they are great as long as you dont disagree with anything they say or do.
Marc Estrich More than 1 year ago
Wow Robert!! You have some very strong opinions for a person that goes by the handle "Robert". That narrows it down and establishes your credibility. I suggest you change your name to "Anonymous".
Marc Estrich More than 1 year ago
Or "Bob"!!!
robert More than 1 year ago
lets put it this way tough guy, i need to keep my stalls and future stalls so im not going to shoot myself in the foot, is that ok with you Marky
Marc Estrich More than 1 year ago
You must be a fantastic horseman with a great shed row who is an asset to any backside "Robert". If you really are a horseman, I do respect you for getting to the backside at 5AM 7 days a week. I do appreciate your only use of capital letters was my name.
Susan Walsh More than 1 year ago
Not only does he bring experience, knowledge and passion to this job, but Sam Elliott has also led the charge on horse welfare.
Mark D More than 1 year ago
I LOVE this!! I miss the good old days of simlpe NW1...NW2 and NW3 Allowances.
David G. More than 1 year ago
How about them straight classified allowance and overnight handicaps that attracted strong quality fields day in and day out?
Marc Estrich More than 1 year ago
I know from personal knowledge that Parx got 2 good racing men in Sam and Tom!!!
Jay Stone More than 1 year ago
Good man for the job with good ideas for condition book. Much tougher situation than Suffolk, which was an island unto itself. At Parx he will deal with shippers coming and going from everywhere and a full backside.