As we enter a new year, now is a good time to reflect on Pennsylvania’s equine athletes, races and industry milestones that occurred in 2018.
The PA-bred thoroughbreds had an amazing year, topped by Shamrock Rose winning the $1,000,000 Grade I Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Other PA-bred Grade I winners included Unique Bella in Santa Anita’s Beholder Stakes and Del Mar’s Clement L. Hirsch Stakes, Army Mule in Aqueduct’s Carter Handicap, and Spring Quality in Belmont’s $1,000,000 Woodford Reserve. And only three states bred more North American Graded Stakes winners in 2018 than Pennsylvania.
The month of May saw the return of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship (MATCH) Series, with Pennsylvania hosting nine of the 25 races. The regional racing series combined rich stakes, as well as plus bonuses for participating owners and trainers. Horses competing in MATCH Series races earned points based on participation and order of finish. PA-bred Page McKenney won MATCH Series Division for 3three -year-old and up, — on dirt and Pennsylvania bonus for breeder.
On June 2, the handle on Penn National Race Course, which featured the $500,000 Grade II Penn Mile, was the third highest in the track’s 46-year history. Penn National’s Holiday Racing Festival on November 22 saw PA-Breds take both open Stakes: Johnny Jump Up in the $100,000 Swatara and Midtowncharlybrown in the $200,000 Fabulous Strike.
Pennsylvania hosted two Grade I races at Parx® Racing on Saturday, September 22. McKinzie won the $1,000,000 Grade I Pennsylvania Derby for Justify’s Triple Crown-winning connections, jockey Mike Smith and trainer Bob Baffert. Parx® Racing had its third highest handle for Pennsylvania Derby Day, totaling $8.9 million. PA Derby Day also featured the $1,000,000 Grade I Cotillion, which saw Midnight Bisou awarded the win with the disqualification of Monomoy Girl.
Parx® Racing also became the first track in the Mid-Atlantic region to require the microchipping of all horses stabled in the barn area. All horses stabled at Parx® will be microchipped by early 2019.
This year, Presque Isle Downs, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania HBPA, introduced a new wagering format in order to give horseplayers additional exotic options, plus larger jackpot payouts. For the meet, Presque Isle’s handle jumped by 15.45% over 2017 — with the live racing handle growing by over $11,000,000. The September 17 card, topped by the $400,000 Grade II Presque Isle Masters, saw the overall handle top $2,000,000 — a 38% year-to-year increase.
For Pennsylvania’s standardbred industry, November brought breeders and owners from across the world to Harrisburg, PA for the Black Book Sale. Pennsylvania-sired horses earned top bids in the yearling sale — the largest component of the $53,000,000-plus auction. Pennsylvania stallions ruled the yearling sale with Captaintreacherous leading the pacing sires. Gallie Bythebeach topped the broodmare portion of the sale, selling for $280,000 to the Pennsylvania-based Hanover Shoe Farm.
On Memorial Day Harrah’s Philadelphia held three Invitational races, the Maxie Lee Trot, the Betsy Ross Pace and the Commodore Barry Pace. Will Take Charge, winner of the Maxie Lee Trot, had a world-record-equaling time of 1:50.3. The richest pacer in harness racing, Foiled Again, won his 100th career race at Harrah’s Philadelphia on July 8.
The Meadows Race Track celebrated 55 years of horse racing in Washington, PA. The 52nd Delvin Miller Adios Final ran in July, bringing lots of PA pride for fans. PA-bred Dorsoduro Hanover took the win for home track trainer Ron Burke and driver Matt Kakaley. The PA-bred pacer went on to win the Breeders Crown three-year-old colt pace at Pocono in October.
At the end of October, The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono hosted the $6,500,000 Breeders Crown for the third time. McWicked, the favorite for the 2018 Breeders Crown Open Pace, easily took the win for driver Brian Sears and trainer Casie Coleman. PA-breds won six out of the twelve 2018 Breeders Crown Races.
The PA fair harness racing couldn’t get more exciting with 25 divisional track records being set. One horse Cirrus De Vie, set five of the 25 track records. Crew Sock Hanover went undefeated with ten wins at PA fairs. She also became the fastest two-year-old filly pacer in fair circuit history with a time of 1:58 at the Bloomsburg Fair.
The Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association, Harrah’s Philadelphia and The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono introduced the Great Northeast Open Series. This series ran from May to September for quality male pacers and trotters and fast-class mare pacers. It held races for the three classes every week at Philadelphia and Pocono.
As we start the journey into 2019, we can be certain of one thing: the future is bright for Pennsylvania’s horse racing and breeding industries!