08/25/2015 12:16PM

Lucrative purses on tap at Parx Racing Fall Festival

Barbara D. Livingston
Social Inclusion will make his debut for local horseman Juan Carlos Guerrero at Parx on Saturday in race 5, a second-level optional-claiming race at 1 1/16 miles. The race offers a purse of $88,000.

There has been a lot of change at Parx Racing this year.

Sam Elliott is the track’s new director of racing; the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and track management in June agreed to reduce racing dates in coming years; and on Saturday Parx will begin an eight-week fall festival, during which purses will average $500,000 per day.

The festival is being funded by money saved by racing fewer dates. Parx was granted 210 dates in 2014 and 199 this year, but under the agreement reached in June will race 156 days in 2016.

Parx is in the midst of a break that began following the card of Aug. 11. The track will also not conduct racing from Dec. 23, 2015, until Feb. 13, 2016. There will be a summer hiatus next year from Aug. 10 to Sept. 3.

As part of the agreement, Parx will keep its racetrack open for training year round and will make $4.4 million in capital improvements.

During the current break, the paddock and walking ring were completely rebuilt and rubber pavers installed. According to Elliott, a new safety rail will be installed over the winter. Other plans call for four new barns to be built, the entire backstretch to be repaved, and the backstretch administration building to be renovated.

Parx has had difficulty racing during the winter, with numerous weather-related cancellations. Eighteen full or partial days were lost this year.

“This had to happen,” Elliott said. “Winter racing is not a real workable model. You’re at the mercy of the weather. So if you cut back winter racing and put on your best product in the fall when we have our big stakes, I think we’ll really have something.”

The festival’s opening day on Saturday will offer purses of more than $1 million and includes the Grade 3 Smarty Jones Stakes, the local prep for the Sept. 19 Pennsylvania Derby, a Grade 2 race with a $1 million purse.

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The 11 Saturday races average 10 horses each. Horsemen from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware will participate. Parx-based horsemen have first preference at the entry box during the festival.

“I wanted to start off with a bang,” Elliott said. “We have $708,000 in overnight purses, plus the $300,000 Smarty Jones. I carded an allowance race at 1 1/16 miles with a purse of $86,000 as the first race to get things started on the right note.”

The Grade 3 Smarty Jones drew a field of eight, topped by Preakness third-place finisher Divining Rod and West Virginia Derby runner-up Souper Colossal.

Social Inclusion will make his debut for local horseman Juan Carlos Guerrero in race 5, a second-level optional-claiming race at 1 1/16 miles. The race offers a purse of $88,000.

Social Inclusion finished third last year in the Wood Memorial, Preakness, and Woody Stephens before being sidelined by a tendon injury. This will be his third start of the year.

The card also includes a no-conditions allowance race at a mile and 70 yards, which has a purse of $100,000.

“If you look at the condition book, Saturday’s races are very similar to what I have on Pennsylvania Derby Day,” Elliott said. “I’m hoping a lot of these horses will come back in three weeks.”

To ensure there will be a stakes race each Saturday during the festival, five $150,000 races have been added. First up is the Bayern, a mile and 70-yard race for 3-year-olds and up. The name of that stakes will change each year to honor the winner of the previous season’s Pennsylvania Derby.

In addition to the Pennsylvania Derby, the Sept. 19 card will include the Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion; the Grade 3, $300,000 Gallant Bob; and the $150,000 Bayern Stakes.

On Sept. 7, Parx has the Grade 3, $300,000 Turf Monster; the Grade 3, $200,000 Greenwood Cup; and the $200,000 Turf Amazon.

The $200,000 PTHA President’s Cup is scheduled for Sept. 12.

“Before we took this break, we were between $9.5 million and $10 million ahead in handle from last year,” Elliott said. “Now we’ve given that back by taking a break, but our day-to-day handle is up about 10 percent. Hopefully, we will handle added money on the festival; that’s the reason you do something like this.”