By Amy Jo Martin
4:18 PM EDT, March 17, 2014
The 2014 thoroughbred season and off-track betting could be nixed this year if a contractual dispute between Colonial Downs and the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent Protective Association (HBPA) is not resolved soon.
“Currently, there is an impasse between the HBPA and Colonial Downs,” Bernie Hettle, spokesman for the Virginia Racing Commission (VRC), said in a phone interview Thursday.
The VRC held an arbitration session Wednesday between Colonial Downs and the HBPA with an impartial mediator. However, according to Hettle, the two didn’t make any progress.
“It was fruitless because of irreconcilable differences,” said Hettle.
“After an hour, Judge Dohal ended the session because he concluded the parties were too far apart,” said Frank Petramalo, executive director of the HBPA.
“In my view, the mediation did not work because Colonial Downs was not interested in settling the dispute for reasons unknown to me,” he added. “Instead of discussing that in a meaningful way, Colonial Downs took several giant steps backward.”
Colonial Downs President Ian Stewart that the two are extremely far apart in their requests for schedule dates.
"We have never been close to an agreement on this issue," he said.
According to the HBPA, its organization and Colonial Downs cannot agree on the number of race days in the 2014 thoroughbred season, which usually starts in June.
“The HBPA, on behalf of the horse owners and trainers who race at Colonial Downs, offered a seven-week/28-day race meet compromise that was nearly all of what had been proposed previously by Colonial Downs,” said Petramalo.
However, Colonial Downs is requesting six races for the thoroughbred season, reduced from 12 days.
"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," Stewart said.
"We need top notch race talent and right now Colonial Downs is a third-rate racetrack. That is not okay with me."
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 and unable to renew its contract, which expired on Jan. 29.
According to Stewart, the racetrack currently does not profit from the thoroughbred season.
As a result of the contract dispute, Colonial Downs closed its eight off-track betting facilities in February. The facilities, which bring in $80 million annually, have remained closed and cannot be reopened until a contract is signed.
“Off-track betting on thoroughbred racing cannot take place unless there is live thoroughbred racing in Virginia and Colonial Downs is the only track,” Hettle said.
In an effort to resolve this dispute, the VRC held a meeting on March 17 at Colonial Downs.
Martin can be reached by phone at 804-885-0040.
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