09/10/2008 11:00PM

Penn will shut down to fix track


Penn National Race Course will close for live racing and training for at least one month beginning Sept. 20 so that the main track can be resurfaced after complaints from horsemen that the track was dangerous.

Rob Marella, Penn National's director of racing, said Thursday that the track has decided to reopen for live racing on Oct. 31, though horsemen will be invited back to the track for training when the resurfacing project is complete.

"With Oct. 31 set, we think we've allowed enough of a window to handle any contingencies that might come up, including bad weather," Marella said.

The project will entail the replacement of the top of the racing surface but leave the base untouched, according to Fred Lipkin, a spokesman for Penn National.

Horsemen pressed Penn National to resurface the track after complaining about unsafe track conditions in August, according to Joe Santanna, the president of the Pennsylvania Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. Santanna said horsemen believed that horses were suffering catastrophic breakdowns over the surface at a high rate, but officials of the track disputed the horsemen's numbers and said the breakdowns were not higher than either the national rate or the rate at the track in previous years. According to recent data, approximately two horses out of every thousand suffer fatal breakdowns on non-artificial racing surfaces.

Santanna said that regardless of the numbers, inconsistencies in the surface were visible upon inspection.

"You can see that the surface is contaminated by the base," Santanna said. "There are little pieces of ground stone in it."

Penn National had budgeted the resurfacing project for 2009, but the track decided to move up the timeline after talking to horsemen and the state racing commission, according to Marella. Penn National races year round, and horsemen were concerned that winter racing would create even more problems with the surface, Santanna said.

Horsemen's officials are currently working with trainers to find available stalls at nearby tracks while the resurfacing project is completed, according to Santanna. Penn National has approximately 1,200 horses on its backside, Santanna said.

Penn National tore down its grandstand in 2006 in order to rebuild a facility incorporating a casino. The track continued to hold live races during the construction project.