Following 24 stakes at five different tracks that saw nearly $5 million in purse money given out, some new names stand atop the final standings at the completion of the 2018 Penn Gaming Racing Challenge as jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. claimed the title as the top rider in the series for the first time. Ortiz's 73 points were good enough to best runner-up Tyler Gaffalione by 11.
While his only two wins in the series came on Charles Town Classic day aboard Shaft of Light in the Russell Road Stakes and Midnight Poker in the Robert Hilton Memorial, Ortiz was a frequent guest at both Charles Town and Penn National this year notching a second place finish on Thewayiam in the $200,000 Penn Oaks and third place finish with Sower in the $300,000 Charles Town Oaks (G3) among his other mounts.
Gaffalione edged out Ricardo Santana, Jr. by 2 points for the second slot.
Trainer Steve Asmussen captured his first title as leading trainer in the Penn Gaming Challenge series on the back of his strong showing at Zia Park's Land of Enchantment Day on Thanksgiving Eve. Brittlyn Stable Inc.'s Forevamo gave Asmussen his lone winner on the card when he took the top prize in the $150,000 Zia Park Championship but the Hall of Fame conditioner saddled eight horses in total including Combatant who checked in third in the $250,000 Zia Park Derby and She's a Julie who ran fourth in the $250,000 Zia Park Oaks as the odds-on favorite.
Asmussen's 78 points were enough to land him the top spot over past series winner Mike Maker by a comfortable margin. Maker had previously sent out John Connally Turf Cup (G3) winner Bigger Picture and Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint victor Hogy at Sam Houston earlier in the year. After Maker, it was 14 points back to Jason Servis in third place.
Gary Barber walked away with the title of leading owner in the series with his biggest score in the series coming as the principal owner of Got Stormy, winner of the Penn Oaks. Peter Redekop B.C. Ltd. and Ernest Haynes tied for second place, just two points behind Barber. Haynes was the owner and trainer of Lake Ponchatrain, the only horse to win multiple races in the 2018 Penn Gaming Racing Challenge.
The Penn Gaming Racing Challenge, inaugurated by Penn National Gaming, Inc. (PNGI) in 2014, ties together 24 stakes races worth nearly $5 million purse money at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course, Sam Houston Race Park, and Zia Park. The Challenge includes tie-ins between groups of races in the series, as well as bonuses and prizes that include free nominations, refund of entry and starter fees, and trips to the PNGI owned M Resort in Las Vegas.
All owners, trainers, and jockeys who participate in the unrestricted stakes on the designated event days will receive two points. Additionally, points are awarded for Top 5 finishes in varying scales, based on the value or grade of the race. The additional points range from the 25 received as a result of a win in a Grade 2, to one (1) point for a fifth place finish in an unrestricted stakes race worth between $50,000 and $75,000.
At the end of the Challenge, the owner, trainer, and jockey with the most points will each receive two round-trip airfare tickets and a three-night stay at the 390 room M Resort located on South Las Vegas Boulevard in Las Vegas. In addition to the travel rewards, the owner and trainer accumulating the most points at the end of all seven events will have their entry and starting fees refunded in any unrestricted stakes race run at a PNGI thoroughbred track in 2019, with the exception of Penn National itself.
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