NEW KENT – Colonial Downs and the Horsemen's Benevolent Protective Association (HBPA) have not yet reached an agreement on the 2014 thoroughbred race season..
The Virginia Racing Commission (VRC) held a meeting Thursday morning to hear from the two parties, which have been unable to agree on the length of the 2014 thoroughbred season and a shared monetary figure. Their contract ended on Jan. 29, causing off-track betting (OTB) facilities to strike thoroughbred betting earlier this year.
Thoroughbred OTB cannot take place unless there is live thoroughbred racing in Virginia. Since Colonial Downs is the only thoroughbred track in the Commonwealth, it is dependent on the track’s 2014 thoroughbred season.
Last year, the VRC approved a 25-day thoroughbred race schedule, identical to 2013. But since then, Colonial Downs and the HBPA have been at odds about the schedule and finances, and have not renewed its contract.
As a result of the contract dispute, Colonial Downs closed its eight off-track betting facilities to thoroughbred racing in February. The facilities, which bring in $80 million annually and $400,000 to New Kent County, cannot allow thoroughbred racing betting until a contract is signed.
According to HBPA Executive Director Frank Patramalo, his organization, on behalf of the horse owners and trainers who race at Colonial Downs, proposed that the 2014 thoroughbred season last seven weeks, or 28 days, and that the association pay the track $280,000. Colonial Downs had originally asked for a 12-day race schedule and $300,000 to help the track keep up with operational costs.
However, when HBPA and Colonial Downs went to an arbitration meeting earlier this month, the racetrack instead requested six races for the thoroughbred season and $500,000.
“The only way that we can bring more money in is by raising the purse in the six races and drawing in the nationally recognized horses and jockeys,” Colonial Downs President Ian Stewart said in a phone interview.
“We need top notch race talent and right now Colonial Downs is a third-rate racetrack. That is not okay with me.”
Stewart explained that a majority of the money being proposed by the HBPA is “illusionary” and contingent on whether the OTB facilities make a profit.
VRC Vice-President D.G. Van Clief proposed March 17 via teleconference that as a compromise, Colonial Downs and the HBPA consider a seven-week, or 21-day, thoroughbred season, with races being held Friday through Sunday. Doing so would reduce Colonial Downs’ operating costs and allow the track to have higher purses.
“Doing nothing is going to cost us. We’re already left $500,000 of revenue on the table,” said Van Clief, who recommended that an outside racing official come on board to help with the three to five-year program.
In an unrelated action Thursday, Colonial Downs and the HBPA agreed to allow pari-mutuel waging, or a betting system in which all bets of a particular type are placed together in a pool, at Colonial Downs during the Dogwood Races on April 5 and the Virginia Gold Cup Races at the Great Meadow in The Plains, Va. on May 2-3.
The Tidewater Review will update this story as information becomes available.
Martin can be reached by phone at 804-885-0040.