09/28/2016 11:50AM

Parx purses boosted during Fall Festival

Barbara D. Livingston
Sam Elliott, director of racing at Parx, Elliott is hoping that the quality of the field for this year’s Pennsylvania Derby, won by Connect, will earn the race a Grade 1 ranking from the American Graded Stakes Committee when it meets later this year.

The second annual Fall Festival of Racing at Parx begins Saturday. Overnight purses during the festival will be increased 50 percent and average between $450,000 and $470,000 a day, according to Sam Elliott, the track’s director of racing. The festival runs through Oct. 25.

On Saturday, a third-level optional $40,000 claiming race at six furlongs has a purse of $80,000. A $5,000 claiming sprint earlier on the card has a purse of $31,000.

“We’re hoping for stronger business and to up the quality of our races substantially,” Elliott said. “We want to highlight the better horses in the region, increase our field size, and get people from around the area participating here.”

Parx-based horses have preference during the festival over horses shipping in to race.

Elliott put together what is being widely acknowledged as the best day of racing ever held at Parx last Saturday. While a large crowd turned out for the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby and Grade 1 Cotillion, Elliott was disappointed that the $9.6 million wagered did not surpass the $10.4 million Parx record set on Pennsylvania Derby Day in 2014.

Still, Saturday’s handle was up 65 percent from the second-highest handle mark in track history of $5.8 million wagered on the card a year ago.

“We beat the second-highest day by quite a margin, so I’m happy with that,” Elliott said. “The difference was the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby handled $4.2 million, and on Saturday, the Derby just cleared $3 million.”

Betting on the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby, which was won by Bayern, was bolstered by the incredible popularity of California Chrome, who finished sixth while making his first start since the Belmont Stakes. That year’s Cotillion was won by eventual 3-year-old filly champion Untapable.

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The main draws in last Saturday’s Pennsylvania Derby were Nyquist and Exaggerator, who finished sixth and seventh. Songbird remained undefeated with her Cotillion tour de force.

“The thrill of the weekend, to me, was when Songbird turned for home in the Cotillion,” Elliott said. “I don’t know how many people we had because we don’t charge admission, but there were an awful lot of people here, and the roar of the crowd was something I’ll remember for a long while.”

Elliott is hoping that the quality of this year’s Pennsylvania Derby field will earn the race a Grade 1 ranking from the American Graded Stakes Committee when it meets later this year. In addition to Nyquist, Exaggerator, and the winner, Connect, the field included Grade 2 winners Gun Runner and Cupid.

Bayern had won the Grade 1 Haskell prior to his Pennsylvania Derby victory and went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Last year’s winner, Frosted, won the Grade 1 Wood Memorial in the spring of his 3-year-old season and this year has won both the Grade 1 Met Mile and Grade 1 Whitney.

“I know horsemen view this race as a Grade 1 by the way they enter,” Elliott said. “Counting Connected, who is now a Grade 2 winner, seven of the 12 runners we had Saturday are graded winners, and eight are stakes winners. Two are Grade 1 winners, three are Grade 2 winners, two are Grade 3 winners.”

Prior to Saturday, the Pennsylvania Derby field had collectively won the following Grade 1 and Grade 2 races this year: the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Haskell, Santa Anita Derby, Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby, West Virginia Derby, Indiana Derby, and Rebel Stakes.