Jeb Hannum is Executive Director of the Virginia Equine Alliance (VEA) which is made up of four member groups: The Virginia Thoroughbred Association (VTA), Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, the Virginia Harness Horse Association (VHHA) and the Virginia Gold Cup Races.
Q: Given the unknown in regards to the Coronavirus pandemic, any thoughts you can share with the equine community in Virginia?
A: Sadly, each day it seems to get a little bit worse for the racing industry and other equine events. The steeplechase community is trying very hard to have a series of races in the late spring but even now that is in jeopardy. In regards to flat racing at Colonial, the issue now is that the OTB’s are closed so the revenue that we were counting on for purses is not accumulating the way we had originally planned. The harness meet in Woodstock is scheduled to start in September so I hope we’re far enough out that it will not be affected.
Q: A month ago, before the pandemic affected the Commonwealth, the legislative session was nearing completion and was at a crucial point for the racing industry? Can you give us any updates.
A: The good news is that the casino bill that passed the House and the Senate has protections for the horsemen and for Colonial Downs. The key provision is that it allows for an increase in the number of Historical Horse Racing (HHR) machines — specifically in Vinton and in Dumfries. This will help offset the decline in HHR revenue which is expected when the casinos come on line in a few years.
The horsemen and the coalition of gaming companies that help put the casino bill together are encouraging the Governor’s office to sign the bill ‘as is’. It is a complicated piece of legislation and it would be most beneficial for all parties to have it become law now. If necessary, any technical changes could be addressed in the next legislative session.
Q: Is there anything members of the equine community can do to help in this regard?
A: The best thing is to contact the Governor’s office and ask him to sign HB 4/SB 36 as is.
Q: With Colonial Downs still 3 1/2 months away from opening, Shenandoah Downs 5 1/2 months away and sanctioned steeplechase meets scheduled in late spring and in the fall, there is still hope to maintain much of Virginia’s racing schedule. Your thoughts as it gives people at this challenging time something to look forward to.
A: It looks like with all the cancellations this spring that it could be a very busy and exciting time for racing in the summer and the fall. Other events like the Upperville horse show I understand are also considering summer or fall dates. It is certainly an unprecedented and trying time. But horsemen are by nature very tough and used to some level of adversity. I am confident that we will come out of this and let’s hope that we can get racing very soon.