09/12/2012 2:55PM

Jerardi: Parx puts together richest program Pennsylvania has ever seen

Barbara D. Livingston
Alpha (6) and Golden Ticket, who finished in a dead heat in the Travers, are expected to continue their rivalry in next weekend's Pennsylvania Derby.

I have been in Philadelphia long enough to remember Liberty Bell Park, which opened nearly 50 years ago and closed in 1986, the year after I got to town. Back in 1985, there was “The Bell” and Garden State Park across the Delaware River in New Jersey and that often forgotten track on Street Road in Bensalem, then called Keystone with that ugly “K” on the front of an even uglier building.

Now, Keystone/Philadelphia Park/Parx Racing has outlasted them all and is just a week away from putting on the best single racing program in the half-century that horse racing has been legal in Pennsylvania.

If you have spent any time on the backside or the frontside at the “Pha,” it is just a bit surreal that, with the notable exception of the Breeders’ Cup, the first American track to have two $1 million races on the same card will be the very same place that could for most of its existence charitably be called a dump.

Everything changed when slot machines were legalized in 2004 and came on line in the race track building in December 2006. Now, there is a giant casino building across the parking lot that, well before its third birthday this December, has already been expanded, as it is by far the largest grossing casino in the state.

Table games came on line two years ago so now there are slots, poker, and any gambling game you can think of. And, if there is a track that is not simulcast at Parx, nobody has ever heard of it.

The old track building has undergone a second makeover in a decade. New barns are regularly being finished on the backstretch. If you have not been there in a while, the place really is unrecognizable.

On Sept, 22, the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby will share top billing with the $1 million Cotillion, the first Grade 1 in Pennsylvania history.

This year’s best 3-year-old filly Questing will face last year’s top 2-year-old filly, My Miss Aurelia, in the Cotillion. It will be a small, but very select field.

The Pa. Derby will settle the Travers dead heat between Alpha and Golden Ticket. And they won’t be alone. The starting gate should be full or nearly full for a race which has been positioned to attract horses from the Travers and serve as a final Breeders’ Cup prep for 3-year-olds.

The $300,000 Gallant Bob, which will open the stakes portion of the card, will feature some of America’s best 3- year-old sprinters, including perhaps Trinniberg, Currency Swap, and Fort Loudon.

The three stakes races will be seen on a live 90-minute television show on a local CBS affiliate.

The racing office hopes to put on a card with $3 million in total purses.

There really will be nothing to compare the day to in the history of racing in the commonwealth because there has never been anything remotely like it.

The card will be the culmination of a month the track has decided to make its own, starting with a Labor Day card that featured three stakes with $900,000 in purses and another win by Ben’s Cat in the Turf Monster, the best grass sprint this side of the BC Turf Sprint itself.

Last Saturday was “Pa.-bred Day at the Races” with an entire card of Pennsylvania-breds, including five stakes worth $400,000. With all the slot money flowing into purses and the breeding fund, Pennsylvania-breds have suddenly become desirable and it shows in the foal numbers of the one state that has had consistently larger foal crops every year, even as the national foal crop continues to decline.

This Saturday is Owners’ Day, featuring the $250,000 PTHA President’s Cup.

So, if you are counting, that is nearly $4 million in stakes purses over four racing cards in 23 days, something very un-Pha like.

The day-to-day Parx programs are better, but not New York, Southern California, or the Keeneland/Churchill version of Kentucky, or even close.

But that really isn’t the point. If you have been here as long as I have, a day like Sept. 22 is as hard to imagine as a Pa.-bred horse like Smarty Jones.

It was Smarty Jones and that memorable spring of 2004 that then Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell credited with giving the slots bill the momentum it needed to pass that July. And now, eight years later, here we are with two $1 million races that will attract some of America’s best jockeys and trainers and make the old/new track just north of the Philadelphia city line the center of American racing for a day.

John Dutchy More than 1 year ago
Do I really see a 5k claimer race with a purse of 40k this saturday? Wouldn't you catch a 15kb from belmont taking this plunge for the big money?
Infinity More than 1 year ago
I would rather be dead than in PHILLY!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
we would rather you be dead than be in Philly!
Raymond Hackinson More than 1 year ago
Watching Parx racing on TV, I notice the regular using tactics that seem like wrestling with the moves they make A horse on the inside looks like he is beaten and suddenly when confronted by an outside runner, comes on again. The way the outside plays on the turn is unique to any other track I noticed. Many riders would be hard put to learn the tactics of winning races there.
Joyce Johnson Groome More than 1 year ago
Now that the inside of parx looks great.They should consider some changes to the outside of the facility! Most people still look at the place as a dump! I would push the tacky tables and umbrellas farther up towards the top of the stretch and make them more modern looking.Build a nice outside venue area for drinks and food since you don't allow fans to bring in their own alcoholic beverages anymore! The portable drink and food stations are a joke and look subpar! Also,do something about your menu! I had a hot dog last week and it was absolutely awful! If you are going to charge $2.75 make it a beef dog and teach your staff that if the dogs are sitting in water all day they should consider throwing them out instead of serving them. Maybe even some other permanent outside elevated seating area! I think if you do this people will start taking Parx seriously! You have to do more than just throw big money into a couple of stakes races! Albeit ! it is very exciting! Parx is a little track and will never live up to a churchill downs etc. but I do think they are trying!
Eveline Kjelstrup More than 1 year ago
The backside kitchen is excellent !
Joyce Johnson Groome More than 1 year ago
thanks! Will try eating there!
cheryl More than 1 year ago
I wish more people would come out every weekend to see the races. The Pha is slowly becoming a premier track and someday will be up there with Del Mar and Santa Anita. Hopefully TGV will start to give the Pha the respect it deserves.
Tyler Mathis More than 1 year ago
I'd rather drive two hours to Monmouth or pay $25.00 in tolls and go to Aqueduct than spend a day at Parx. Second rate. That won't change.
Joyce Johnson Groome More than 1 year ago
Than you are not a true horse racing fan!
Bruce Epstein More than 1 year ago
Keystone aka Parx deserves a hand shake. They have out lasted many local tracks and now provide a good quality day of racing. The Big M should be disbaned and or taken over by the Parx management. It's a pitty what has happened to the Big M t-b meet. Back in the early 80's it was such a strong meet. Now, it's gone and Keystone is local "B" calls king. Who would have seen this comming? Much congrats to Parx team.
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
Im excited! I live 5 mins away G&A. How bout them purses this Saturday Dick? There huge. As a younger student of the game, I can feel why Mr. Jeradi is so excited. Its like XMAS time for us here. We haven't seen nothing like this till now. I'll give everyone a tip. This Saturday and next Saturday a $40.00 exacta will be worth $65.00 easy with the inflated purses. Only thing missing is a PA bred in the race. Wish we had another Smarty Jones.
Perl More than 1 year ago
Sounds like fuzzy math to me.
Joel More than 1 year ago
Hate to tell you Ian, but inflated purses have NOTHING to do with parimutual payoffs.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I grew up in Bensalem, walked hots there in the 70's. Bless Us!
Paul_Tuon More than 1 year ago
Everything looks good except there's always a dark side of horse racing that remains a big problem, and that is drugs--both legal and illegals drugs that hang over our heads. If we can just solve the drugs issue, racing in "pha" and every where and everywhere else in this country would really be a breath of fresh air. My money is on Alpha and I'm diving head first to the betting windows.
Dennis Geier More than 1 year ago