07/09/2004 12:00AM

Pa. Derby may be $1M race


Philadelphia Park is considering raising the purse for the Sept. 6 Pennsylvania Derby from $750,000 to $1 million and limiting attendance that day to 35,000 in anticipation of Smarty Jones making his comeback in the race, track officials said on Friday.

Management has scheduled a meeting for July 13 to hash out the final details for the race, according to Sal Sinatra, the track's racing secretary. In the meantime, construction crews at the track are reopening the third floor, which had been closed because of the track's typically small crowds, and installing temporary bleachers in order to accommodate what may be a record crowd for the track, Sinatra said.

"We've been measuring every nook and cranny, trying to find places we can squeeze people in," Sinatra said.

For now, the track plans to pre-sell anywhere from 30,000 to 35,000 tickets to the race, Sinatra said, with no walk-up tickets offered. Each ticket will likely cost $5, Sinatra said, but the price has not yet been firmly established.

"We're not looking to get rich off this," Sinatra said.

Smarty Jones, who is based at Philadelphia Park, has not raced since losing the Belmont Stakes on June 5, ending his undefeated streak and his bid for the Triple Crown. Initial plans had called for Smarty Jones to possibly return in the Aug. 8 Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park, but the horse's connections have now said that the Pennsylvania Derby is the best fit.

Smarty Jones is owned by Pennsylvania residents Roy and Patricia Chapman, who bred the horse at their Someday Farm. The Chapmans have said they want to race at Philadelphia Park to reward his local fans.

Sinatra said that the purse for the Pennsylvania Derby will likely be raised to $1 million whether Smarty Jones starts in the race or not. The $250,000 purse raise will likely be coupled with an announcement that the track plans to supplement purses by $20 million over the next 18 months, Sinatra said.

Last Monday, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell signed a bill legalizing slot machines at Philadelphia Park and 13 other sites in the state. Philadelphia expects the slots to be up and running in late 2005, and the $20 million purse infusion would be offered in anticipation of slots revenue supplementing purses from then on.

"It's something we'd like to do over the next 18 months, in $30,000 installments every three months," Sinatra said. "So we'd go from $110,000 a day to $140,000 to $170,000 to $200,000, to let our local horsemen upgrade and prepare."