The Virginia Racing Commission (VRC) today citing an impasse between Colonial Downs and the Virginia H.B.P.A. (V.H.B.P.A.) approved the same live racing days as in 2013 – 25 days over 8 weeks. Colonial Downs had advocated 12 live days over four weeks and the V.H.B.P.A. advocated 32 days over 8 weeks.
When the word of a stalemate reached the VRC, the commissioners had little choice but to approve one or the other’s proposal or to craft their own. The latter ultimately proved to unpopular with all the parties in attendance which were charged with reaching an agreement regarding the days of the weeks and the post times for 2014.
Colonial Downs president Ian Stewart gave a lengthy presentation citing truncated meets Monmouth and Retama Parks as posting successful numbers that dramatically reduced previous losses posted at the New Jersey and Texas racetracks. The overall proposal noted the New Kent racetrack need to find financial viability and stability and included endorsements from a sample of CLN employees imploring the commissioners to approve the racetrack’s application and support their means of supporting themselves and their families.
Stewart pointed out how average daily purses at CLN had decreased from purses higher than 94% of the other racetracks tracked by the Jockey Club in 2001 to a level in 2012 that was higher than just 58% of those North American tracks. Stewart pointed out that a “boutique” weekend race meet over a four week period would cut the tracks overhead back to a manageable level and that the increased purses and increased simulcast and tradition wagers per race would fuel new and realistic growth.
He closed stating that an “unsustainable financial model can’t go on indefinitely” leaving the audience wondering how long owner Jeff Jacobs will tolerate continuing to operate an under performing asset with no relief from alternative gaming in sight.
V.H.B.P.A. Executive Frank Petramalo opened his counter argument saying that the primary issue was, in fact, the number of weeks the live race meet would last, and not the total number of live days offered.
He noted that a short window of time 4 to 6 weeks makes it extremely difficult for horseman to maximize the number of starts needed to earn enough purse money to justify the expense of shipping either temporarily or for the entire meet. Petramalo also pointed that the 2013 schedule of 5 weeks and, what turned out to be, 24 days of live racing saved the racetrack $200,000 in purse money and the same amount in promotional and marketing dollars. In all, Petremalo estimated the New Kent track saved an additional $100,000 for a total of $500,000.
While he agreed that Colonial Downs needs “a solid fiscal foundation,” he deemed the 25 day and 5 week VRC motion to be a “disadvantage to horsemen and the Virginia Racing Industry.”
He further predicted that the horsemen’s group’s board of directors would likely be disinclined to fund the loan needed to front load the purse account so 100% of the purses could be paid out during the meet. Previously, the V.H.B.P.A. had arranged this loan for the “gap funding” to fund the future purses earned from wagers placed after the meet until the end of the year. The organization has at times personally guaranteed this loan and they have always borne the interest costs as well.
The assembled breeders and horsemen were not enamored with Colonial Downs proposal and assertion that their 12 days could grow to 16 days in as little as “three years” or the VRC’s motion of compromise. They consistently advocating additional time to break the stalemate and the desire for more racing days and expanded financial opportunities as a result.
Breeders and horsemen in attendance included Debbie Easter, Wayne and Susie Chatfield-Taylor, Stephanie Nixon, Woodberry Payne, Marshall Dowell, Nellie Mae Cox, John Tucker, Bob Bouse, Brooke Royster, Marjie Flowerws, Cynthia Curtis, Lenny Miles, Chris Koon and others.
In response to VTA Executive Director Debbie Easter’s request for more time, VRC Chairmen Stuart Siegel insured everyone that the commissioners would be interested in any revised plan agreed to by the two parties in some reasonable period of time if that would make “more people happy.”
D.G. Van Clief stated he was not a “fan of the status quo” that he “defaulted to the compromise” offered, and that he would vote for it reluctantly.” Eventually, all five commissioners voted yes to the schedule of 25 days over a 5 week period.
Sarge Reynolds, who offered the motion, read a written statement lamenting that the parties “could not agree on the best path forward,” and Stran Trout shared the he was “equally disappointed.” Commissioner Carol Dawson, whose car was rear ended by a tractor trailer near the exit ramp (she was not injured) approaching the meeting, simply noted that to be successful, horsemen and horses “have to have horse racing.”
In the end, the measure passed 5-0.
The VRC then approved the Standardbred racing dates with various caveats to be settled by the parties, the 2014 licenses for the ADW companies EZ Horseplay, TVG, XpressBet and Twin Spires and approved the racing dates for the Virginia Gold Cup (May 3, 2014) and the International Gold Cup (October 25).