By Tom LaMarra

Unexpected dry conditions and good-sized fields proved a winning combination for the MATCH Series in two stakes held June 2 at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course. They were the first two of eight series events to be held in Pennsylvania this year.

Weather forecasts leading up to the track’s marquee Penn Mile program called for thunderstorms and the potential for heavy rain, but the system stayed just to the south. The turf course was firm and the 11-race program generated total pari-mutuel handle of $3,615,408, not far off the Penn National record.

The $200,000 Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup (3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Turf Division), won by Mary Eppler Racing Stable’s Oak Bluffs, had a 10-horse field after two scratches. The five-furlong stakes produced strong wagering when compared with 2017.

Win, place, show, exacta, trifecta and superfecta handle totaled $481,299 this year, up 29.3% from $372,158 for a seven-horse Governor’s Cup field that also was raced on firm turf last year. When daily double and Pick 3 pools that started with the Governor’s Cup are added, this year’s total of $567,000 marked a 22.6% hike from 2017.

Oak Bluffs, a New Jersey-bred trained by Eppler, has competed in both races in his division thus far and leads the way with 15 points. Eppler, who also has the leader of the 3-Year-Olds and Up Long–Dirt Division in Page McKenney after one race, plans to keep Oak Bluffs in the series.

The $100,000 Penn Ladies Dash (Filly and Mare Sprint–Turf Division) was added to the stakes schedule this year as part of the support by Penn National and the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association for the MATCH Series. The five-furlong stakes attracted a field of 12 that was reduced to nine.

The Dash, won by G. Watts Humphrey Jr.’s Morticia, produced straight and in-race exotics pool wagering of $321,466. The race kicked off an all-stakes Pick 4 that attracted a pool of $276,536 as well as a daily double and Pick 3, so total wagering was $637,225.

For comparison purposes, total handle–including the all-stakes Pick 4–for the same race number on the Penn Mile card in 2017 was $624,533, so the 2018 figure was up about 2%.

Trainer Rusty Arnold, who passed on a stakes at Churchill Downs the same day to race Morticia at Penn National, said the filly could be headed to Saratoga Race Course but the remaining MATCH Series races in the division remain in play.

The Pennsylvania HBPA also worked with Presque Isle Downs & Casino to offer two MATCH Series races, one in August and one in September. Parx Racing, where horsemen are represented by the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, has scheduled the first two of its four MATCH Series events for July 7.

The MATCH Series now moves to Monmouth Park in New Jersey June 17 with the $75,000 Regret Stakes (Filly and Mare Sprint–Dirt Division) and $75,000 Mr. Prospector Stakes (3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Dirt Division). Nominations for both dirt races close June 9.