Photo Credit to Kim Pratt

Did you ever wonder who compiles all the information in the racing program and The Racing Form?  Craig Donnelly, synonymous with horse racing in the Philadelphia area, enjoys his current position as chart caller and handicapper at Parx Casino and Racing in Bensalem, PA. Tucked away in a small, quiet room upstairs in the grandstand, Craig records the position of each horse in a race and the distance between horses during a race. He also writes an analysis of each race and comments on the finish of each race, describing the winning horse’s performance. With his binoculars and program and Racing Form, Craig watches each race and within seconds records the positions of the horses at the call points of each race. After the race, he watches replays several times to check his facts and watch each horse’s trip. He collects the data for Equibase which is the official database of racing information and statistics which appears in The Daily Racing Form and the track program. Often overlooked because they work behind the scenes, chart callers supply important and crucial information for the official charts and past performances that bettors rely on at every track in the U.S.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Donnelly began handicapping in 1969 for the Miami Beach Sun. “When I was a kid, my father, who was a racing writer took me to the backstretch at Hialeah in Miami, and I couldn’t believe you could get paid for watching horses and going to the races. That’s when I decided I wanted to work at the track. My father moved up here, and I wanted to work at Garden State Park, so I got permission to leave school at noon to go to the track. I didn’t realize how lucky I had it,” explained Donnelly. Craig worked as linemaker at Atlantic City Race Track, Garden State Park, and the Meadowlands, and co-hosted a local racing show on TV. He also worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer for 37 years as a horse racing analyst and handicapper.

“I’ve been in this business for about 50 years, and I’ve seen lots of changes, but I still love the game. I’ve seen quite a few tracks close in the area like Atlantic City and Garden State, and The Meadowlands cut back on thoroughbred racing, but there have been lots of improvements in racing because of technology. We have more information to use, and racing is safer now than in the past,” described Donnelly.

Photo Credit to Kim Pratt

On race days at Parx, Donnelly publishes a free tip sheet called Craig Donnelly’s Parx Racing Analysis. “I pick 4 horses in each race and add a comment about each one. I try to give bettors useful information that everybody can understand. We have more information and statistics to use now, and I take what’s relevant. Sometime people analyze too much, after all, these are horses, and it’s not an exact science. I think some people overlook the importance of observation. It’s important to watch the horses and see how they walk and behave in the paddock. You don’t have to be at the track anymore to bet on the races, and most wagering is done off track, so lots of people just rely on statistics and don’t watch the horses before a race. I still am fascinated by the track, and I love to spot a young 2 year old with talent early on in its career,” explained Craig.

Donnelley continued, “Pennsylvania has one of the best and most lucrative breeding and racing programs around. The quality of racing has improved, and the rules protect the welfare of the horse. After all, without the horses, we have nothing. Now, claims are voided if a horse breaks down or is vanned off the track. That discourages trainers from entering horses with injuries or problems.”

“Another improvement is the concern for the horses after their racing careers are over. People didn’t worry as much about their welfare after they retired. Now, we have Turning for Home, created in 2008 to place retired Parx race horses in safe new homes and second careers. Before Turning for Home, I helped place some retired

Photo Credit to Kim Pratt

race horses at a prison facility in New York State. The inmates took care of the horses, and being around the horses had a soothing and calming effect on the prisoners,” commented Donnelly.

“My advice to bettors is to start with a certain amount of money for the day and pick several races to wager on. Study the statistics and observe the horses, and use what’s relevant. I enjoy the daily intrigue at the track, and after all these years, I still love to handicap,” added Donnelly. A recipient of the 2011 Special Achievement award at Parx Racing Hall of Fame, Craig continues working his “dream job.”


Cover Photo Credit to Kim Pratt


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