As 2021 begins, it’s time to take stock – as in both livestock and an inventory of the state of the pony business – of horse racing in Pennsylvania.
In this edition of the our PA horse racing roundup, PlayPennsylvania looks at:
- The racing schedules for tracks during the first month of the year and beyond. Tracks had recently worried they might not be able to race when casinos were once again ordered shut to curtail the COVID-19 virus. But restrictions lifted on Jan. 2.
- The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, especially in light of doping at tracks in other jurisdictions.
- Tiz the Law, a Belmont-winning horse with trainers from PA hunt country and many shareholders from the Keystone State, had his career end a year early due to severe bone bruising.
- Announcer Keith Jones at Parx has retired after 34 years in the booth.
Horse racing schedules
With revenue from casino slots flowing – about 10% of retail slot revenue underwrites racing purses – after a second COVID-19 hiatus, several PA tracks affirmed plans to race this month.
Pete Peterson, president of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association, is looking toward a stronger 2021:
“Online wagering for Pennsylvania horse racing ended strong in 2020 and the industry looks forward to building on that momentum in the coming year. Like most industries, we are hopeful that COVID-19 mitigation efforts will be successful, paving the way for the return of fans to Pennsylvania tracks and allowing casinos to remain open.
“While the 2020 shutdown of racing continues to have some residual effects, we are optimistic that we can overcome them with a strong 2021.”
Per the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association, the tracks running in January are:
- Parx Racing: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are scheduled for the year at this thoroughbred track. Racing runs until Dec. 29.
- The Meadows: Beginning Jan. 6, harness racing is set for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday through March. Then Saturdays are added in April. Racing runs until Dec. 30.
- Penn National at Hollywood Casino: Runs Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday through February, adds Saturday during March, then takes off April and May before resuming in mid-June. Check the calendar for dates in June and beyond for this thoroughbred track. Racing ends Dec. 19.
Resuming later in the year:
- Harrah’s: Racing at this harness track begins in late June and ends Dec. 20.
- Mohegan Sun Pocono: Opens on limited dates in February. Days are added as the months’ progress at this harness track. The meet ends in October.
- Presque Isle Downs: Beginning May 11, the thoroughbred track runs Monday to Thursday. Sundays are added beginning Aug. 9, then return to Monday to Thursday before the meet ends Oct. 22.
PA law allows several ways to bet on horses other than by visiting the track where they’re running.
Impact of new Federal horse racing act in PA uncertain
Peterson said it is too soon to say how the new Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) will fit into PA. Championed by Kentucky’s Sen. Mitch McConnell, the act became law in December as a buried add-on to the virus stimulus package.
The state’s Department of Agriculture and PA Horse Racing Commission already contracts with the University of Pennsylvania and New Bolton Center for lab testing and veterinary oversight of the state’s racing business. The new law seeks to make such testing uniform among jurisdictions.
HISA puts anti-doping/medication control and safety programs under the purview of one independent, non-governmental authority instead of individual state racing commissions.
Details remain unclear, and the law and the new agency may not become active until July 1, though action could be taken sooner.
The agency will have nine members. Five will fill independent seats; four will come from the industry with the chair an independent representative. The law requires two standing committees, an anti-doping/medication control committee, and a racetrack safety committee.
The United States Anti-Doping Agency – USADA – is the enforcement agency. The fees and costs are not clear yet.
Tiz stands stud and retires in a bittersweet move
Chester County, PA native Robin Smullen, an assistant trainer, knew something was wrong when she rode Tiz the Law on Dec. 29.
The horse with the photogenic white around his eyes retired a day later, after X-rays and two veterinary opinions.
As Sakatoga Stable owner Jack Knowlton told Bloodhorse:
“You don’t want to worry about a catastrophic injury that would have occurred if we continued to race him. We had a second opinion and they both said we could not continue to train and race him. There was no decision to make other than to retire him when you get a diagnosis like that.”
Tiz was trained by another PA native, Barclay Tagg, and had a large contingent of share-holders from PA.
The horse’s breeding rights sold last year for an undisclosed sum. He commands a stud fee of $40,000 per breeding.
Keith Jones, the voice of Parx, retired
Keith Jones has just retired after calling about 70,000 races, mostly at Parx – which was Philadelphia Park when he began.
Veteran horse writer Dick Jerardi has written a lovely appreciation of his colleague. The column appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, then the PHRA reprinted it. It’s worth a read.