By Amy Jo Martin, email@example.com
1:42 PM EDT, April 10, 2014
Negotiations between Colonial Downs and the Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association have ceased, according to a letter from track president Ian Stewart posted Tuesday on the track's website.
“It is clear that there is nothing to be gained from further discussions with the VHBPA,” Stewart said in the letter. “It is time for Colonial Downs to move on and work with thoroughbred horsemen who want to work with us to provide opportunities for Virginia thoroughbred racing, elevate the quality of Virginia thoroughbred racing to the high level it deserves and build a nationally recognized Virginia thoroughbred racing brand.”
“The VHBPA's strategy of inflexibility and economic pressure will not achieve anything other than create permanent damage to thoroughbred racing in Virginia, damage that could ultimately lead to its demise,” Stewart added. “It is time to move beyond simply arguing over race days that maintain a status quo that everyone recognizes is not working for the horsemen, breeders, or the track.”
Stewart was not available Tuesday for further comment.
Frank Petramalo, the executive director of the VHBPA, said, “I think that what they are doing is unwise and probably illegal” under the Federal Interstate Horseracing Act. “What Colonial Downs has failed to do in all of this is demonstrate a business plan of how cutting back racing to eight weeks in the summer to two weeks in the fall is going to promote horseracing in Virginia. What they are doing has nothing to do with promoting live racing in Virginia.”
A release from Colonial Downs on Tuesday stated that a new vision for the track, in an effort to “elevate the quality” of the thoroughbred season, is to host a six-day Virginia Derby Festival every September with purses averaging more than $500,000 a day. Sponsored by Jacobs Investments, the Grade II Virginia Derby would return to national broadcast television.
“The plan is to grow racing in Virginia,” Colonial Downs marketing director Darrell Wood said.
He added it wouldn't just be six days of racing, but would include a “chance for Virginia-bred (horses) to race other weekends, too.”
Tracks at Keeneland, Saratoga and Del Mar host six-day grass seasons, Wood said. Colonial Downs wants to grow its brand out of the mid-Atlantic region to be nationally recognized.
According to Stewart's letter, Colonial Downs is in the process of identifying a group of horsemen who share this vision for thoroughbred racing. Until a contract with another recognized association can be formed, the track cannot host thoroughbred racing.
“As for what happens in 2014, we don't know,” Wood said.
Jeffrey P. Jacobs, the owner of Colonial Downs, said in the release, “There may be no thoroughbred racing in Virginia for several years. Nevertheless, I bet you even money that when Colonial Downs brings thoroughbred racing back to Virginia, it will be the beginning of a new era of stability, growth, and pride. On the turf, the great thoroughbreds often come from behind to win. That is exactly what Colonial Downs will do.”
Colonial Downs, under Jacobs' ownership, opened in 1997. It has traditionally hosted thoroughbred meets during the summer. The track also has several off-site betting locations, including one in Hampton. Wood said that while the locations in Hampton Roads and Richmond remain open for wagers on harness racing, four sites in southwest Virginia have been temporarily closed.
Martin can be reached by phone at 804-885-0040. Andi Petrini contributed to this story.
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