BY Dick Jerardi
Jack Armstrong has been a horse owner for 20 years. According to Equibase, his horses have started 3,584 times, with 601 wins, 575 seconds, 538 thirds and nearly $12 million in earnings.
Since What About Tonight finished second in the second race at Parx on March 10, Armstrong has had no starters with no wins and no earnings.
Meanwhile, the expenses have continued unabated.
“My thinking with this is you can’t do much about it,’’ said Armstrong, a member of the Parx Hall of Fame.“Getting upset isn’t any good for my health and it’s not going to get us anywhere.’’
“This’’ of course is the coronavirus which has shut down much of the world. Some American race tracks have remained open, but Parx is not among them. That decision was first made by management and then made official by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf who has shut down much of the state.
Armstrong has 15 horses in training at the moment with trainers Scott Lake, Phil Aristone and Bobby Mosco.
“The bills are going to pile up pretty fast if they don’t come up with a plan,’’ Armstrong said.
Unfortunately, planning is impossible because nobody knows when the virus might abate enough so we can all get back to some form of normality.
Meanwhile, the horses have to be fed and trained, the trainers have to get their day rates and the stable help has to be paid.
“I use the number $2,600 a month, but that’s based on my day rate, what my guys charge me,’’ Armstrong said.
That’s $2,600 per month per horse. So that’s $39,000 per month for a 15-horse stable like Armstrong’s. If he’s winning 46 races and nearly $1.2 million in purses like he did in 2019, those numbers work nicely. If he’s winning no races and no money, those numbers don’t work so well.
That $2,600 per month is a bit less now because the horses are not getting treated for races. But Armstrong would happily pay the $2,600 if his horses had a chance to run.
Armstrong rarely ships so his van bills are minimal. His horses are stabled at Parx and run at Parx.
He did have two in at Laurel on March 20 and another on March 21. They looked to be in good spots until racing was shut down in Maryland on March 20.
Right before Maryland was shut down, it was announced Laurel would only let horses that were stabled there or at Pimlico run in their races. Armstrong had sent three horses to Pimlico to be stabled with Lake. They were about 30 minutes from Pimlico when the local ban was announced. The van returned to Parx with the horses. Turned out to be moot anyway when everything was shut down, but it exemplifies the uncertain times for horse owners.
“Other tracks run with no fans, no owners, then why we can’t we?’’ Armstrong wondered. “That’s the frustrating part.’’
Parx was among the very first tracks to shut down, as New York, Maryland and even Penn National remained open. Tracks in Florida, Arkansas and California have remained open. Penn National closed for racing when the governor gave his edict. Now, Laurel and Aqueduct, after a stable worker tested positive for Covid-19, have been closed for racing.
What Armstrong and other owners at Park found upsetting was when the track building was closed but the Parx casino remained open. That didn’t last long as casinos were closed as well by Gov. Wolf.
The casino’s closing obviously will affect purses once the track and casino reopen as the purses are so dependent on a slice of the slot revenues.
Trainers generally are not making money on their day rates. They make money when their horses run well and they get 10 percent of the owner’s share of the purse.
“They say the day rate gets sucked up with feed and shavings and hay and the workers, bandages, exercise riders every day,’’ Armstrong said.
So, owners, trainers and jockeys are all being affected by the shutdown.
“The biggest problem is there’s no date,’’ Armstrong said. “If you said it was June 1st, I would say okay, get my horses to the farm for a month, then I’ll bring them back in training and they’ll be ready to roll by June 1st.’’
But nobody knows how this is going to play out. So, we wait.