Pennsylvania’s harness tracks approved for 472 racing programs for 2021

Harrisburg, PA — Pennsylvania’s three harness tracks have been approved for a total of 472 racing programs for 2021. The number is down slightly from 2020, when the tracks were awarded 484 dates.

The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission took the action at its meeting Nov. 17.

The Meadows Racetrack & Casino applied for 185 days, down from 195 in its 2020 application. Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack requested 150, the same number as this year. The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono was awarded 137 programs, down two from 2020.

The Meadows calendar calls for racing from Jan. 6-Dec. 30 with two one-week breaks in April and September for track maintenance. Racing will be held three days a week (Wednesday through Friday) in January, February and March, and four days a week the remainder of the year.

Tuesday will be the fourth day each week in April and September through December. Saturday will replace Tuesday from May through August based on the submitted calendar. Post time is listed at 12.45 p.m. for all days.

Harrah’s Philadelphia is scheduled begin its meet April 2 and race through Dec. 26. Through most of the season, racing will be held on the customary schedule of Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. There are two evening cards set for Sept. 10 and Oct. 1. Most programs will begin at 12:25 p.m. or 12:40 p.m.

Pocono has set Feb. 6 as opening day and Oct. 30 as closing day. From April through September, racing is planned for four days a week from Saturday through Tuesday; in February, only on Saturday and Sunday; and in March and October, Saturday through Monday. Post time is 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, and at 5 p.m. Sunday.

Representatives of the harness tracks provided the PHRC with updates on their 2020 meets, which were interrupted or delayed because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Harrah’s Philadelphia, which was scheduled to open in April but didn’t begin racing until late June, has “had a good run” this year, according to Barry Brown, director of racing operations. From July through October, export pari-mutuel handle was up 21 percent from 2019; on-track handle on the live product was down only one-half of one percent; and wagers on other tracks at Harrah’s Philadelphia was up 30 percent given the closure of some local wagering outlets because of COVID-19.

In addition, Brown said advance deposit wagering was up about 200 percent from January through October of this year.

The Meadows has had a “rollercoaster ride” in 2020, said Mark Loewe, who is retiring from his position as vice president of racing. March wagering was strong until the shutdown, and when the facility reopened in late June, it declined in part because other racetracks had gotten the jump on reopening, he said.

July and August numbers were good, but September and October were weak, Loewe said, citing competition from betting on professional sports.

Tony Salerno, director of the PHRC Standardbred Bureau, credited all stakeholders for making adjustments and implementing protocols in the wake of COVID-19 this year. He urged them to continue adhering to those procedures this year and into next year.

“We’ve had very few incidents (at the tracks),” Salerno said. “I’d like to thank all the horsemen, the tracks and (commission) staff.”

The PHRC also heard a recap and preview of the marketing plan created by the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association. The focus of the 2020 plan was altered because of the COVID-19 shutdown in mid-March, but the report said the shift to online marketing was successful given the circumstances.

A highlight of the program was a five-hour live stream of the Adios Day program that served to engage fans given the fact no patrons were permitted on the grounds. There were 55,000 viewers, and the total handle for the day came close to $1 million.

Dawnelle Mock, marketing director for the MSOA, was able to raise about $18,000 in sponsorship money tied to the Adios marketing program. Mock said it was so successful the MSOA and its marketing partners plan to do the live stream again in 2021 even if patrons are allowed to attend the Adios.

Under a change in state law a few years ago, one percent of purse funds from slot machine revenue was shifted to support the marketing and promotion of racing statewide (through the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association) and the individual horsemen’s and breeders’ associations. Up to $2 million has been available each year, and the PHRC signs off on all the marketing programs.

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