Don't look now, but Philadelphia Park could be among the premier venues in the nation for thoroughbred horse racing within a few years.
Management and horsemen at the track in Bensalem have long been at odds over perceived limited accommodations for racetrackers and dilapidated backstetch conditions.
But the announcement yesterday of a seven-year contract extension between the two sides clears the way for steady improvement at the facility through 2018 from revenues fueled from the year-old slots casino.
Two years from now, a separate $250 million casino is expected to open on track property, and the grandstand, which primarily houses slot machines with one floor for racing fans, will return to a facility for horsemen and patrons.
"We view this as a significant accomplishment," Bob Green, chairman of Greenwood Racing, which runs the track and casino, said in a joint release from the two sides.
"We have always made it clear that we intend to construct and maintain a first-class facility, both for our casino and horse-racing patrons. This agreement paves the way for significant improvements to our facility that will enhance the Philadelphia Park experience for our casino guests and for the horse-racing community."
The agreements call for 36 barns to be rebuilt on the backstretch, at a cost of around $500,000 each, over the next eight years. The barns, which date back to the track's opening in 1974, are in poor condition.
The 12 dormitories for grooms also will be refurbished.
Purses are expected to rise to $235,000 daily beginning Jan. 1 and should keeping mounting with continued slots revenues.
"Philadelphia Park has really stepped up to the plate and delivered," Mike Ballezzi, executive director of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said. "This is the first time in 10 years that I've been happy."
Improved medical coverage for backstretch workers and trainers also will be introduced in the new year.
Another possible change could be the racing surface.
A current nationwide trend of installing synthetic footing is believed by many to be safer and easier on the horses.