11/02/2016 10:50AM

Parx Fall Festival may not return in 2017


The recently concluded Parx Fall Festival resulted in improved field size, better racing, and a bump in handle, but it is not a certainty to be brought back in 2017.

This was the second year Parx has held the festival, which ran Oct. 1-25.

In 2015, the festival went for eight weeks. It began on Smarty Jones Stakes Day, Aug. 29, included Pennsylvania Derby Day, and continued until the third week in October. Five $150,000 stakes were added to the schedule, and purses averaged approximately $500,000 per day.

That festival had a setback when a horse stabled on the grounds tested positive for the equine herpesvirus on Oct. 2 and a quarantine was put in place for the rest of the festival.

Average daily purses for the 16 racing days of this year’s festival were $500,000. Field size averaged 9.14 horses per race, according to track officials, and average handle was $1.48 million per day. The handle figure was up 17 percent from the $1.26 million a day wagered during comparable dates in 2015, but the track was under a quarantine at that time.

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Sam Elliott, the track’s director of racing, was pleased with the increase in field size and the quality of racing at this year’s festival but thinks handle should have been higher.

“Field size was strong, and I thought the racing overall was very good,” Elliott said. “I’m happy that we made a lot of the open allowance races with $90,000 purses. But for the quality of racing we had, I think business should have done better. I don’t think the business reflected how strong our racing was.”

Parx management and the horsemen will discuss whether to hold a festival next year.

“We’re going to take a look at how the two festivals have done and make a decision,” Elliott said. “Personally, I’d be surprised if we did it again. I think the best thing we can do is have a strong, consistent product all year long.”

The increase in field size during the festival was a welcome sight since the beginning of this year’s Parx season hit several speed bumps that resulted in short fields.

The beginning of the meet was pushed back from Feb. 13 to Feb. 27 because the installation of a new safety rail and renovations to the main track took longer than planned. There was no training at Parx from Jan. 2 until entries for the opening-day card were taken.

Parx also had an equine herpesvirus outbreak this spring, and the stable area was quarantined from April 1 through May 17.

Field size from Feb. 27 to May 17 averaged 6.88 horses per race. It picked up after the quarantine ended and then rose again during the festival. For the year, Parx is averaging 7.7 horses per race.

“For all that’s happened, that’s pretty good, I think,” Elliott said. “We were a shade under eight horses last year. I expect we’ll be close to that by the end of the year.”