Horse racing returns today to Hollywood Gaming

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As the rain fell Thursday morning, the horses huffed in their stalls.

There’s a chill in the air, and the horses appear to know this means race season at Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course has commenced.

Today, the horses will be huffing along a milelong thoroughbred racetrack for the first races of the season.

“The community has unbelievingly embraced racing,” said Mark Loewe, vice president of Ohio racing operations for Penn National Gaming, the company that owns the local track. “There’s definitely a big interest. We have seen it in the crowds.”

This year, the local track will have its biggest day of racing with the Best of Ohio race day Saturday. The event is Ohio’s championship for Ohio-bred horses.

At Best of Ohio there are five stake races with purses of $150,000 for each race.

Purse money comes from the wagers made at the track and online. Also, a certain percentage of the video lottery terminal revenue goes to the purses.

The average purse for a race at Mahoning Valley Race Course is $11,000. With eight races on any given race day, that’s nearly $90,000 in purse money going out of the local track. The winning horse owner gets 60 percent of the winnings.

“There’s a real incentive to grow,” said John McGary, track announcer. “[Racing] benefits the agriculture industry, the breeding industry and the transportation industry, too.”

The Austintown track received about 2,000 applications this year for its 988 available stalls.

“That’s about 500 more than last year,” Loewe said. “Our purses are very good, and a lot of people are finding out we have an excellent facility.”

Elliot Sullivan, 27, of Berlin Center calls this track his home. He travels all over to race his own horses and clients’ horses.

Here he’s a top trainer, which means he has the most wins.

Last year, he had the two horses with the most wins in North America.

Sullivan has been around horses his whole life, but he didn’t start training them professionally until about six years ago.

“It’s a very thorough process,” he said. “We have a good feeding program. They train on schedule. Everything is very consistent.”

He employs an 8- to 10-person crew to help take care of the horses.

The schedule is demanding for horse trainers, especially those with several horses at the track.

Sullivan has 30 thoroughbred horses that need to be trained, fed and cared for during the race season, so he can’t do it alone.

Some days are 12 hours from when the sun rises to when the sun sets, yet those involved with these horses can’t seem to get enough.

“It’s a high,” Sullivan said. “It’s something you get in your blood. There’s nothing like winning a race.”

Today’s first race at Austintown’s track starts at 12:45 p.m., and Saturday’s Best of Ohio starts at 12:15 p.m.

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