11/21/2014 4:29PM

Ohio’s Mahoning Valley set to host inaugural meet

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A new era in Ohio racing begins Monday with the first day of live racing at Mahoning Valley, a racino that essentially replaces Beulah Park on the circuit.

Penn National Gaming, the industry giant that spent some $250 million in construction and licensing fees for the facility near Youngstown, will host a variety of ceremonies to commemorate the opening of the new one-mile, dirt-only track.

“There’s real excitement here, and we all feel pretty good about how the racing is going to be,” said racing secretary Ed Vomacka, who was among the key Penn personnel who moved from Beulah to Mahoning Valley, a three-hour drive to the northeast.

The eight-race Monday opener includes five full fields of 12, and Vomacka is confident the four-day-a-week schedule will allow him and his staff to assemble similarly large fields throughout the winter. Mahoning Valley will run 21 dates through Dec. 30 and 64 dates through April 25. With some exceptions, racing will be held Saturdays, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.

Vomacka said he has “about 700 horses” in the new stable area, with full capacity being nearly 1,000 stalls. He estimated about 80 percent of the horses are from traditional Ohio barns, with most of those having recently arrived from ThistleDown. Compared to other times of year, Mahoning Valley will not open with severe competition for horses, with Mountaineer Park and all other Ohio tracks being closed in December and beyond.

“The only battle we’re going to have is with the weather,” said Vomacka, referring to the usual struggles associated with wintertime racing.
Purses initially are expected to average about $65,000 per card, although Vomacka said they are projected to increase as the meet unfolds. Opening-day purses are $86,000. A modest stakes schedule begins with five $50,000 races through the end of 2014, with the first, the Hollywood Gaming Mahoning Sprint, set for Saturday.

The video-lottery terminal (VLT) section of the new facility opened Sept. 17, so, “operationally, we’re in pretty good shape as far as working out any kinks,” said Vomacka. “We’ll get things going Monday and see what we have to do to keep our fans and horsemen happy. This new facility fully integrates racing and gaming, so we’re all set.” There are two main wagering areas, most notably a second-floor simulcast teletheater.

The estimated $250 million cost of the facility roughly breaks down this way: $125 million to build the new facility; a $50 million fee for the required VLT license; and a $75 million fee for relocating the racing license formerly held by Beulah, the Columbus-area track that was shuttered May 3 after more than 90 years in business.

These are the wagering takeout rates: win-place-show, 18 percent; pick three and pick four, 15 percent; all other exotics, 22.5 percent.
The three-letter Daily Racing Form and Equibase designation for the new track is MVR.