Unlike in 2014 when Javier Castellano posted an easy victory as the top rider in the Penn Gaming Racing Challenge, this year’s competition came down to the final race in the 22 race series and when the dust settled following Favorite Tale’s win in Wednesday night’s Fabulous Strike at Penn National, the country’s two-time defending Eclipse Award winning jockey was able to claim another series title, besting Jose Ortiz by 6 points. The victory on Favorite Tale was one of Castellano’s three wins in the series having also won the $200,000 Mountainview aboard Golden Lad and $150,000 Penn Oaks on Strict Compliance earlier in the year.
Castellano came into the Fabulous Strike trailing Ortiz by 14 points but the win by Favorite Tale coupled with Ortiz’s mount Scarly Charly unable to do better than a sixth place finish, provided for the final margin of victory.
Ortiz’s lone win in the 2015 Penn Gaming Racing Challenge came aboard Hot City Girl in the $350,000 Charles Town Oaks (G3) back in September.
Charles Town based Jose Montano, Ricardo Santana, Jr. and Kerwin Clark rounded out the top five in the jockey standings.
Fox Hill Farms denied Ken & Sarah Ramsey a repeat as the top owner in the series when its Thirteen Arrows won Wednesday’s $100,000 Zia Park Distaff capping a perfect 3-for-3 mark for the outfit in the Penn Gaming Challenge. In January at Sam Houston, Fox Hill Farms sent out Exodus to a win in the Allen’s Landing and Cassatt to a triumph in the $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic. It’s 46 points landed Fox Hill Farms in a tie with the Ramsey’s but they were able to claim the top spot based on the tiebreaker of total earnings for the year-long competition as their starters earned $327,900 to the Ramsey’s $177,870. As a result, Fox Hill Farms runners will not pay fees to run in unrestricted stakes at Penn Gaming tracks in 2016.
Ken & Sarah Ramsey had a chance to secure the top spot for a second straight year with a finish of third or better by International Star in the $200,000 Zia Park Derby, but the 2015 Louisiana Derby (G2) champ checked in fourth as the 1.30-to-1 favorite.
The top 5 among owners was filled out by Klaravich Stables & William Lawrence, George & Lori Hall and Jalin Stable & Adam Staple.
Similar to the owners and jockeys, the top trainer in the series was also decided by a narrow margin with Mike Maker getting the better of Larry Jones by two points, 70-68. Maker, whose one series win came with Ken & Sarah Ramsey’s Coalport in the John Connally Turf Cup (G3) at Sam Houston, trailed Jones by 8 points going into the Zia Park Derby but got all he needed to vault back to the top spot – the aforementioned fourth place run by International Star.
Todd Pletcher, Linda Rice and Tom Amoss rounded out the top 5 trainers, with defending champion Chad Brown checking in sixth.
As a result, much like Fox Hill Farms, any horse Maker starts in unrestricted stakes at Penn Gaming tracks in 2016 will not be responsible for fees. On top of the fee waivers, Maker, Fox Hill Farms and Castellano each earned themselves a trip for two out to the PNGI owned, 390 room M Resort in Las Vegas.
The volume of business for the 2015 Penn Gaming Racing Challenge was as noteworthy as the final standings with this year’s total of $15,784,626 wagered on the six events run in each of the last two years representing a 25% increase over wagering in 2014. All but one of the six events posted a handle increase over their 2014 counterpart, while both the Charles Town Classic and Penn Mile cards established new single day handle records in the history of the respective facilities. This past Wednesday night’s Fabulous Strike card at Penn National also produced the first ever non-Penn Mile day handle of $2 million in the track’s history.
The 2015 Penn Gaming Racing Challenge, inaugurated by Penn National Gaming, Inc. (PNGI) in 2014, tied together 22 stakes races worth more than $5 million purse money at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley, Sam Houston Race Park, and Zia Park. Details on the 2016 Penn Gaming Racing Challenge, including stakes schedules for the individual venues are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.