Tag Archives: Virginia Racing Commission


In spite of assertions by Virginia Thoroughbred Association President Wayne Chatfield-Taylor that the breeders’ group would “become more active” in the General Assembly, only the Virginia Gold Cup Association is seeking legislative changes to Virginia’s pari-mutuel laws which would allow the NSA sanctioned meet to simulcast during the live Virginia Gold Cup meet held each May.

While neither the VTA nor the VA HBPA are proposing legislation in the current on-going session, both groups support SB 398 and HB 402 which will allow the Gold Cup to simulcast the Kentucky Derby on that one day each year.  The VA HBPA is embroiled in an on-going controversy regarding the purse account contract with Colonial Downs and the number of live racing days available this summer.

While Chatfield-Taylor has historically not been supportive of the VTA’s political activities and Virginia Equine Political Action Committee’s fundraising attempts to support various Senators and Delegates either sympathetic to or openly supportive of the industry’s agenda, the organization, along with the VA HBPA, has long advocated legislative changes that would promote meaningful growth of handle, purses and Virginia Breeders Fund revenue.  Those efforts, combined with those of Colonial Downs, have been thwarted recently by the Speaker of the House, William Howell who opposes what he calls “the expansion of gambling.”

At the same time, Chatfield-Taylor has historically openly complained about “playing the political game” and been unwilling to support campaign contributions to various candidates notably those who are members of the Republican Party.  Both Senator Jill Vogel (patron of SB 398) and Delegate Michael Webert (patron of HB 402) are Republicans. As of June of 2013, he had not participated in industry meetings with the key decision makers in the General Assembly including Speaker Howell.

None of the stakeholder organizations or their lobbyists have been successful in explaining to Howell and other anti-gambling Republicans that the Internet, along with Virginia’s law allowing telephone and internet wagering, have already expanded pari-mutuel wagering exponentially. Is spite of the illogical nature of Howell’s position, he and many others condemn any legislation friendly to pari-mutuel wagering no matter the positive impact on horse breeding, agriculture and open space issues.

While SB 398/HB 402 is designed to help fund the Gold Cup’s purses, it will ultimately have minimal long-term impact on racing in the Commonwealth and almost no impact on breeding in the state.

SB 398 was amended on the floor to restrict the simulcasting to only the Kentucky Derby and further limited in scope the number of days and licenses the VRC may approve for such simulcasting.  The changes minimizes the competition with Colonial Downs and subsequently likely to limit the overall impact to the Virginia Gold Cup’s Spring race.  As written and amended, the International Gold Cup will still be able to conduct wagering on its live product but not on simulcasts from other foreign or domestic tracks.

Senator Jill Vogel proposed Senate Bill 398 which would amend the Code of Virginia’s section regarding simulcasting and steeplechase racing.  At the request of Colonial Downs, the bill was amended last week to narrow down the scope of the legal activities as language was inserted saying “(ii) simulcast horse racing that is limited to the transmission from Churchill Downs of the Kentucky Derby horse race.”  The language also limits the eligible meet to one not lasting more than 14 days and it limits the Virginia Racing Commission to issuing only 12 such licenses.

Last week, the Senate passed the bill 30-10 and earlier today the House of Delegates passed the bill by a vote of 81-17.

While the Gold Cup conducted pari-mutuel racing last spring and fall at their Virginia and International Gold Cup meets, handle was limited due to technological issues the association is working hard to solve.  The end-goal for these two race meets is to generate enough handle to supplement purses now provided by a dwindling pool of sponsors who are only willing to designate limited dollars to such events no matter the demographic of the audience.  The Gold Cup crowd is both young and affluent – two things critical to potential sponsors – but raising purse dollars has become more difficult as a natural impact of a slowly recovering economy.

Last years, VTA and VA HBPA representatives met with Gold Cup executives and consultants to discuss various improvements to the Virginia-bred component of their racing product and a similar meeting was held with several racing commissioners to discuss legislative changes required for simulcasting America’s most popular horse race as a natural product to boost handle and subsequently purses at the Spring race.

Crowd estimates for the Virginia Gold Cup range to 50,000 and the handle for a Kentucky Derby simulcast could be substantial based on a per capita wager of $5 per person ($250,000) or $10 per person ($500,000).  By statute the Gold Cup would receive approximately 3 to 5% of such wagers depending on the fee charged by Churchill Downs for the simulcast signal.

On a related note, Del. Ed Scott has sponsored House Bill 1074 which creates a Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry and moves the Virginia Racing Commission from the Department of Commerce and Trade over to Agriculture and Forestry. The change is not expected to have a short term impact on handle, but should help the agency regulate the industry more effectively as a component of the agriculture industry.

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With the VHBPA contract talks with Colonial Downs stalled for what could be the next three weeks, the live racing calendar in Virginia is still in limbo for 2014.  Absent that key issue,  the second half of Nick Hahn’s interview with Racing Commissioner D.G. Van Clief was published last week.

To read the interview, click here.

Visits: 65


The Virginia Racing Commission meeting scheduled for tomorrow, January 29th, has been  cancelled because of weather concerns.

The weather previously interrupted the Commission schedule on January 22 when the January 21 deadline for Colonial Downs and VA HBPA to work out an arrangement for 2014 live racing days. That extension expires on tomorrow.

Up to this point, the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and Colonial Downs have not been able to reach an agreement on race days for 2014. VA HBPA Executive Director Frank Petramalo agreed to extend the contract between the VA HBPA and Colonial Downs through Tuesday, January 21, 2014, at the request of Reynolds.

The VA HBPA has requested eight weeks of racing to include between 24 to 32 race days, while Colonial Downs has maintained their original request to the Racing Commission for 12 race days over four weekends. Without the extension granted at the truncated January 22 meeting, the Thoroughbred signals to Colonial Downs OTBs would have ended  although the facilities could remain open as wagering could be continued on harness racing. The compromise extension expires tomorrow.

Visits: 62




(by Nick Hahn)

In January of 2013, D.G Van Clief, Jr., a prominent executive with a lengthy career in the Thoroughbred industry, took his first seat as regulator on the Virginia Racing Commission.  He is now vice chairman of the Commission.  The former Executive Director and President of the Breeders’ Cup, founding chairman of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and Chairman of Fasig-Tipton may have arrived back in Virginia at the perfect moment to assume a leadership role.

Within a year of joining the Racing Commission, Van Clief has reassembled the “blue ribbon” committee, which he chairs, to deliberately address current issues that test Virginia horse racing industry.  Over a decade ago a previous assemblage chaired by Anne Poulson was successful in bringing some growth to the industry prior to the economic downturn.  In bringing key partners to the table, Van Clief’s group seeks to move Virginia racing forward in a changing industry climate.

Van Clief’s roots in Virginia are deep.  For several generations, his family operated Nydrie Stud, located south of Charlottesville; and his grandmother bred 1947 Kentucky Derby winner Jet Pilot.  Van Clief also served as an officer in the U.S. Navy.

I spoke with Van Clief earlier this month about where Virginia racing is, what’s good about it and where it may be headed. The interview below is part 1 of a two-part series.

To read the interview, click here.

Visits: 101


(VTA) Due to weather concerns, the Virginia Racing Commission Commission meeting on Tuesday, January 21 was postponed after the first appeal hearing. The agenda included discussion of the 2014 race dates at Colonial Downs.

Up to this point, the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and Colonial Downs have not been able to reach an agreement on race days for 2014. New Chairman Sarge Reynolds apologized for postponing the rest of the agenda. VHBPA Executive Director Frank Petramalo agreed to extend the contract between the VHBPA and Colonial Downs through Tuesday, January 21, 2014, at the request of Reynolds.

Up until this point, the VHBPA has requested 8 weeks of racing to include between 24 to 32 race days, while Colonial Downs maintained their original request to the Racing Commission for 12 race days over 4 weekends. Without Reynolds’ requested extension, the thoroughbred signals to Colonial Downs OTBs most likely would have ended at midnight tonight. If an agreement cannot be reached before midnight of Tuesday, January 21, Colonial Downs OTBs will lose their thoroughbred signal, although they could remain open as wagering could be continued on harness racing.

Visits: 56


ohara_philPhil O’Hara has been named a new member of the Virginia Racing Commission, appointed by former Governor Bob McDonnell prior to his leaving office.

O’Hara was recently hired as the executive director of the Mid Atlantic Cooperative, which negotiates simulcasting agreements on behalf of 20 racetracks. O’Hara, who is also the executive director for racetrack development for Daily Racing Form, filled a position that has been vacant since June 1 because of the retirement of attorney Martin Lieberman.

O’Hara has a 30-year career in racing that includes positions at Penn National Gaming Inc. and a stint as president of Equibase Company.

The Mid Atlantic Cooperative was formed in 1998 as a way to leverage the bargaining power of the group’s racetracks in simulcast negotiations. O’Hara was a racing executive at Penn National at the time and participated in the group’s formation.

The group buys and sells signals on behalf of Atlantic City Race Course, Beulah Park, Colonial Downs, Delaware Park, Charles Town Races, Penn National Race Course, Parx Racing, Rockingham Park, Sam Houston Race Park, Suffolk Downs, and Thistledown, along with a handful of harness tracks.

O’Hare replaces Stuart Siegel who was serving as Chairman of the VRC. Siegel’s term expired at the end of December.

Visits: 66


At its regularly scheduled monthly meeting, the Virginia Racing Commission will address two important matters critical to racing and breeding in the Commonwealth – 2014 live racing days and which entity will administer and promote the 2014 Virginia Breeders Fund.  The meeting will be held in the Virginia H.B.P.A. building at Colonial Downs on December 11 at 10 a.m.

Colonial Downs and the Virginia H.B.P.A. had not reached an agreement as of Thursday of last week regarding the total number of days or the number of weeks  the race meet will be held.  Colonial Downs’ executives are proposing a further truncated schedule of only 12 live racing days spread out over a four week meet.  The live racing would happen on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of each week.

Colonial Downs sites on going and rising expenses, trends from the 2013 live race meet along with a purse increase generated by the reduced number of days as justification for the shortest meet in Virginia’s pari-mutuel racing history.

The Virginia H.B.P.A. is advocating a schedule similar to 2013.

For the first time since its inception in 1996, two entities are competing for the contract to administer and promote the Virginia Breeders Fund.  The Virginia Thoroughbred Association and former VTA Executive Director Glenn Petty’s Equisport Solutions have both submitted proposals.

The VTA proposal will utilize Executive Director Debbie Easter and Easter Associates which the organization hired to run its business affairs in June of 2013. Petty was ultimately responsible for the administration and promotion the Fund for ten years from 2003 to 2013 while he was Executive Director.

According to sources, the VTA proposal is a continuance of the 2013 contract including the various programs and awards and a contract fee of $190,000.  The contract amount is 15.2% of the total estimated VBF for 2014.  The fee charged by other Mid-Atlantic states ranges from five to ten percent of the those state’s fund’s total value.

While the VTA is a non-profit organization (501c4), the affiliated for profit agency, Easter Associates, is scheduled to be paid $165,000 in 2014 which includes Executive Director Debbie Easter’s salary.  The Easter Associates management contract fee is approximately 86% of the VTA’s proposed VBF contract amount.

Petty’s Equisport Solutions, also a for profit entity, has submitted a proposal that calls for a $140,000 fee, a savings of $50,000 to the Fund. His proposal calls for the $50,000 savings to be utilized as seed money for a new Virginia Certified Program modeled after the popular one in Delaware.

Equisport’s fee is tied to the growth of total handle which would increase the value of the Fund. “The shrinking Virginia industry which produced an all-time low number of state-bred foals last year can no longer afford so much overhead. It’s a problem I had planned for and it involved tough decisions regarding staff and pay cuts, but I never had a chance to affect the needed changes,” said Petty.

“With my proposal, I’m looking to continue my 30 year effort on behalf of Virginia’s owners and breeders at a fair price while advocating some positive changes for the Fund,” he continued. “My proposal includes consulting services to the VRC and the industry designed to focus on issues that would grow handle, increase the Fund and better utilize tax dollars now being channeled to the General Fund and away from the racing and breeding industry which generated them in the first place.”

Petty has been involved with the Virginia Breeders Fund since co-authoring the original regulations. On behalf of Virginia’s breeders and the Fund, he also helped expand the SWF network from six to the current 10, establish ADW wagering which now produces almost 50% of the total wagering and pass legislation that pays 1% of every wager, including ADW, to the Virginia Breeders Fund.

Virginia was the first state to have a law that requires telephone and computer betting companies to make financial contributions to the related state’s Breeders Fund.

Visits: 64

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