By Bill Finley
Due to circumstances that arose with the coronavirus pandemic, Parx Racing has canceled all of its open stakes for the remainder of the year, including the GI Pennsylvania Derby and the GI Cotillion S. The two $1-million events were part of a program that had been scheduled for Sept. 26 and also included the Turf Amazon S., the Parx Dirt Mile and the GII Gallant Bob S.
“We will not be running any open stakes races this year,” racing secretary David Osojnak said. “We will be going on hiatus. The virus, the plague, just wiped out everything. We think we will be able to come back stronger in 2021.”
COVID-19 caused two major problems for the Parx stakes. Since being moved to mid-September they had an open spot on the calendar, coming after the major 3-year-old races at Saratoga and before the Breeders' Cup. That allowed Parx to attract quality fields that included recent Pennsylvania Derby winners like McKinzie (Street Sense) and West Coast (Flatter). Once the GI Kentucky Derby was rescheduled for Sept. 5 and the GI Preakness S. for Oct. 3, the mid-September slot no longer worked.
The purse account at Parx was also dealt a blow with the closing of the on-track casino Mar. 16. It reopened June 29, but can only operate at 50% capacity.
“It was 50-50,” Osojnak said. “As soon as they moved the Derby, we had a problem. We would have had to run three weeks after the Derby and a week before the Preakness. The way things were working out, it just didn't make any sense to do so, from a financial standpoint or from where the calendar fell.”
Using the money that would have been earmarked for the Sept. 26 stakes has allowed Osojnak to keep purses for overnight races near their 2019 levels.
“We cut our purses, but not significantly,” he said. “I did an analysis of the local tracks–Laurel, Delaware, Monmouth. We had to work things out between the horsemen and Parx management, but what we wanted to do was to make sure that our purses were comparable, plus or minus a few thousand dollars, with those other tracks. We are doing OK, and if the casino revenue picks up, I anticipate that the purses will go back up.”
Parx will hold a handful of Pennsylvania-bred stakes races this year, including five scheduled to be run Sept. 7.
“It's disappointing that we won't be able to run these stakes this year,” Osojnak said. “This virus has affected so many things. These races will be back and, we believe, stronger than ever.”