04/17/2007 12:00AM

Pennsylvania horsemen to chip in for new surface


The owners of Presque Isle Downs, a racetrack and casino in Pennsylvania, and the state's horsemen have agreed to share the cost for the installation of an artificial racing surface, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association said Tuesday.

The two sides have not yet chosen a vendor for installation of the surface, said Joe Santanna, executive director of the the horsemen's group, but have narrowed the field to Polytrack and Tapeta Footings. Polytrack is in use at Turfway Park, Keeneland, and Woodbine Racecourse, and is being installed at Arlington Park, whose meet begins May 4. Tapeta is in use at various training facilities and will be installed at Golden Gate Fields. A vendor will likely be selected by the end of April, Santanna said.

Presque Isle Downs, in Erie, is scheduled to hold a 25-day race meet this year, beginning Sept. 1. The track was built by MTR Gaming to take advantage of the legalization of slots at racetracks in Pennsylvania, and its casino opened in February.

Officials for MTR Gaming's racing division could not be reached on Tuesday.

Under an agreement between the casino and Pennsylvania horsemen, the horsemen's group will use part of its revenue from slot machines to pay for a portion of the cost of the artificial surface. Supporters of the surfaces claim that they are safer and are easier to maintain than traditional dirt tracks.

"Our commitment to the project has yet to be defined, but it will come out of the purse dollars," Santanna said. "We think it's the best investment we can make for our members and their horses."

Presque Isle is expected to run 100 days in 2008, from May until September. Santanna said that purses at the track are expected to average at least $200,000 a day, although that number could "soar" because of gaming revenues.

"Fortunately, gaming in Pennsylvania is going to make racing at Presque Isle Downs a pretty fantastic little thing," Santanna said.