06/03/2013 1:50PM

Penn National has record handle night with Penn Mile

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An effort by Penn National Race Course to draw attention to its racing product paid off Saturday night when the track shattered its handle records for an individual race and an entire card.

Handle on Saturday night’s Penn Mile, a $500,000 turf race Penn inaugurated this year, was $1,139,478, according to the track – far beyond the previous single-race handle record of $377,365 for the 2009 Governor’s Cup, an ungraded race. For the entire 10-race card, handle was $3,658,996, nearly $1.5 million over the previous record for an entire Penn card, set in 1998.

Penn National, which has largely been a backwater track since opening in 1972, created the Penn Mile late last year in the hopes of replicating handle growth at Charles Town in West Virginia, a track that also is owned by Penn National’s parent company, Penn National Gaming Inc. In 2009, Charles Town created the Charles Town Classic with a purse of as much as $1.5 million, and since then, handle at the track has set records nearly every year, in large part because of the contribution of the Classic and its undercard.

The Penn Mile was designed to fill an open spot on the racing calendar for 3-year-old turf horses, according to Dan Silver, the track’s director of racing operations. The race was run at one mile and won by the favorite, Rydilluc, who is considered the division leader.

“We’re not Belmont or Santa Anita, so to get attention nationwide we had to make a splash,” Silver said. “We were looking over the national stakes calendar last year, and there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of races out there that were competing for that 3-year-old turf horse at that time.”

Penn National carded the Penn Mile as its fourth race on the 10-race card, with a post of 7:34 p.m. Eastern, when simulcast players were still zeroed in on West Coast races. Furthermore, as an incentive for horsemen to “fill the van” – a term that refers to shipping another horse on the same two-stall truck – Penn bumped up the purse of the Mountainview Handicap from $175,000 to $250,000 and ran the stakes immediately before the Penn Mile. The Mountainview was run for the first time last year.

Ontrack, Penn National also set a record for handle, with betting of $225,136. That might seem to be a paltry number – average ontrack handle at the Keeneland spring meet this year, for example, was $1.18 million – but Silver said that longtime racing customers told officials on Saturday night that they had “never seen anything like” the Saturday night crowd at the track. Racing customers particularly seemed excited to see top national riders like John Velazquez, Joel Rosario, Javier Castellano, and Edgar Prado compete at the track, Silver said.

“It was something that was really fun and really rewarding,” Silver said.