09/23/2014 1:36PM

Jerardi: Mission accomplished for Pennsylvania Derby Day

Barbara D. Livingston
Given just about a month to get ready, Parx management had a plan for parking, concessions, security, and everything else.

When you have been going to a track for 30 years, you get a sense of what can and cannot be accomplished. I admit to being skeptical that last Saturday’s Pennsylvania Derby/Cotillion/California Chrome card at Parx Racing would be customer friendly. I was concerned that the place would be overrun, that bets would be missed, that food would be hard to find, that security would be overzealous. I was wrong about every one of my concerns.

Given just about a month to get ready, management had a plan for parking, concessions, security, and everything else. And it all worked. Yes, it was crowded, but it was never uncomfortable. The fifth floor, which has been closed, was opened. Half of the first floor, which has been closed, was opened. The picnic area helped spread the crowd out.

There is no way to know how many people were in the facility, which shares vast parking lots with Parx Casino. There is no admission at the track and, to management’s credit, they did not charge Saturday even knowing they had an attraction fans would pay for. They stayed loyal to their regulars and attracted thousands of people who had never visited the track.

As California Chrome hit the paddock and then walking ring for the Pennsylvania Derby, fans were sitting on stairs that probably had not seen a foot in years. And nobody told them they couldn’t. The fans were determined to have fun, and nobody was stopping them.

My best guess is that there were twice as many people as come to a typical Pennsylvania Derby Day. Again, I have no idea what that number is, and anybody who says they do is making it up. You could look at program sales, but I am not sure how good a gauge that is.

“I thought everybody had a great time,” said Joe Wilson, the track’s chief operating officer. “We were servicing people very well. You need to be able to make a bet, watch the race, get something to eat, get something to drink, and use the restroom. We pulled that off without a doubt.”

Wilson hired a parking company, and “they were just efficiently parking our entire lot to keep both businesses running.”

The parking overflow went to a nearby field with the fans bused to the main entrance.

“That was the whole key, not to jam up the parking lot and having traffic backing up on Street Road and stuff,” Wilson said. “We had no issues.”

In fact, it actually appeared a few more thousand could have been in the house with no problems. The fans could park, move around, find a spot to hang, bet, and eat.

Really, the day’s only downer was California Chrome finishing sixth, but horse racing rarely does happy endings. Other than that, there was nothing not to like about the biggest day in the history of Pennsylvania racing.

When management decided to move the Pennsylvania Derby to later in September, start a bonus system, and couple the track’s signature race with the Cotillion Stakes to make it an “event,” a day like Saturday was the goal. Wilson said earlier in the week that he even thought they could get $10 million in handle. That seemed optimistic, but he was right about that, too.

The total handle was $10,396,671, 88 percent more than on the same card in 2013. The Pennsylvania Derby got more than $3 million in bets, nearly three times 2013. Nearly $1 million was bet at the track on the 13 Parx races. The power of a Kentucky Derby winner at your track was never more evident.

In 2011, the Belmont Stakes winner ran in the Pennsylvania Derby. The Travers winners ran in 2012 and 2013. This year, it was the Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner and the Haskell winner. The idea was simple: Make the day a significant part of the racing calendar. Done.

John More than 1 year ago
if shared belief wins HOY I can already hear California chromes owners dumb a.. stables claiming that he has an unfair advantage because he is a gelding
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
Having a Kentucky Derby winner at PARX Saturday was amazing. Like you said it shows the value of that race and what it means to people. There are grade ones and there are grade ones, but the Derby is by far the most important one for 3 yr. olds. It is also the most difficult one to win given the circus like atmosphere present. I hope the Eclipse voters keep this in mind when weighing the accomplishments of these horses come voting time.
JackArm615 More than 1 year ago
As an owner of numerous horses at Parx I feel Parx did a superb job in the getting great fields for the PA Derby and the Grade 1 Cotillian. On derby day they pulled it off as not many believed they would not pull it off. Kudos on a great all around day especially to racing secretary Sal Sinatra.
Alex More than 1 year ago
3 year olds shouldn't be running in age restricted dirt races this time of year.
Edward More than 1 year ago
What about the Strub series in Cal in Jan - restricted to 4 yos?
Tim Stevens More than 1 year ago
This story is a simple one... Horse racing isn't dead! When a racetrack puts the effort to attract the best and provide the best, people will come out and so they did! The takeout rates in PA are a joke but at the same time when a racetrack nowadays can clearly exceed handle expectations as well as attendance, this is a sport that is alive and well WHEN it is in the right hands. Parx sets the bar pretty high in terms of putting on a product. Penn National gaming (and Chris McErlean) needs to take lessons, but trust me, they wont Even though the track bias needs to change, the TV signal-quality needs to improve and the overall sound system at Parx needs an overhaul, at the end of the day, racing proved to shine!
Mark Gory More than 1 year ago
1 good day doesn't mean racing isn't dying! Drugs ,corruption and cheaters are ruining the sport. Parx could be one of the worst!
Scott Kromer More than 1 year ago
lol who are you tim? I work for Penn corp so maybe I could help you out....
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
I hit my first bet for more then enough so I was covered rest of the day and put in a few other plays. I went up at 3pm to 6pm and just watched the races as a fan and worked out great for me.
Amy Hurley More than 1 year ago
It was an enjoyable day; I certainly enjoyed it. It was too crowded for me to make my usual trek between paddock and rail and hope to get back on the rail for each race, but it was great to see so many people there for a change. Parx is a rather charmless building, but give the management full credit for a job well done. Let's just hope the PA Derby gets its Grade 1 status next year.
Mel More than 1 year ago
Anyone betting this track with such egregious take out rates needs their head examined. I enjoyed watching the races here Saturday but not one penny left my pocket. I also agree the simulcasting is very second rate. I do give them credit for putting on a good show with a very solid race card.
Bill Opalka More than 1 year ago
Maybe they put on a good show for the live crowd, but it still looks like a second-rate operation to the simulcast audience. Funny how Parx can run cheap races on a track with a dead rail for 198 days or so, then magically transform itself into Monmouth on its biggest day for two years in a row. I can't be accused of sour grapes because CC was a bad bet, even on a fair track. And playing the speed bias made handicapping easy. But a track and its cheerleaders that want to pretend it's major league should have a fair racing surface for its most important event.
Philip Conforti More than 1 year ago
Never a good thing to say about anything , you must be a real pleasure to be around .
Bill Opalka More than 1 year ago
I laughed out loud when I read this. Actually, I think I'm usually good-natured but also amazed that somebody might remember my previous negativity, which I generally save for here.
Chuck Seddio More than 1 year ago
totally agree bill,after the first race at 11;30 am and the inside horse got to the magic rail(NEVER AT PARX) and went to the lead and improved his position,you knew they scraped the rail and inside speed would rule. funny on monday i watched the first few dirt races from parx to see if the bias would continue but alas outside balcony movers were at it again
John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
Was thinking the same thing about the inner portion of the main track. Otherwise they seemed to do an excellent job.
Matt D. More than 1 year ago
Joe Wilson, the track's chief operating officer - "We were servicing people very well." With a takeout rate of 26% on pick-fours and 30% on trifectas, you certainly were.
Chris Lowe More than 1 year ago
"To Serve Man"....It's a cookbook!