09/24/2013 1:47PM

Penn National Gaming offers incentives for horsemen in stakes races


Penn National Gaming Inc. will award refunds of entry and starting fees in 2014 under a new program designed to provide incentives for horsemen to target stakes races at Penn Gaming’s four tracks, the company announced Tuesday.

The program will tie together stakes races at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Pa.; Charles Town Races in West Virginia; Zia Park in New Mexico; and Sam Houston Race Park in Texas. Under the system, owners will accrue points for starting in designated races that will make them eligible for refunds of entry and starting fees in subsequent races at the tracks.

The promotion is one of a number of programs launched by Penn Gaming over the past several years designed to bump up the profile of the company’s racetracks. Three of Penn Gaming’s racetracks are heavily subsidized by slot-machine revenues, but the company’s racing department has embarked on several novel strategies, including a pick four linking races at Belmont Park with races at Penn National, to draw attention to its racing programs.

The 20 stakes races in the program have been broken up into six different divisions, all for 3-year-olds and up. The refunds will be awarded only in races in the division. For example, a horse starting in the Allen’s Landing Stakes at Sam Houston will have his entry and starting fees refunded for his next start in one of five other races in the division for dirt sprinters.

Points also will be awarded to owners, trainers, and jockeys for the top five finishers in each of the designated races. At the end of the year, the top points earners in each category will be given two round-trip tickets to Las Vegas and a three-night stay at Penn National’s Las Vegas property, the M Resort. In addition, the top points earners among trainers and owners will have their entry and starting fees at any unrestricted stakes at Charles Town, Sam Houston, and Zia Park refunded for the entire 2015 calendar year.

However, refunds of entry and starting fees for races at Penn National Race Course will not be awarded because of contractual provisions between the track and its horsemen, according to Erich Zimny, Penn Gaming’s vice president of racing. The provision requires entry and starting fees to be used for various racing and training expenses, Zimny said, “though they do wind up refunding the entry fees as [Penn National pays] out 1 percent of the purse to all the horses who finish.”

Still, Zimny said that the refunds in the other races and the chance to get all entry and starting fees waved for the races in the series in 2015 may have a measurable impact on the number of horses running this year.

“It’s not an insignificant amount to a lot of people,” Zimny said. “It’s a pretty big number that they are going to be shooting for.”