Live Thoroughbred racing appears to be dead for 2014 at Colonial Downs, where the Virginia Racing Commission, horsemen, and track owner Jeffrey Jacobs have turned their attention to an agreement for next year.
In a June 23 meeting, the Virginia Racing Commission asked that horsemen and Colonial Downs come to an agreement on an eight-week schedule for 2015 in a deal that would see no live Thoroughbred racing this year at the New Kent, Va. track.
Under the plan, the VRC would not require the track to offer the 25 dates it had been assigned for this year. With an agreement with horsemen in place for 2015, Colonial Downs would be allowed to reopen its off-track betting facilities to begin to build a purse fund for next year. The OTBs have been closed since February when the track could not reach an agreement with the Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association on 2014 race dates.
VRC executive secretary Bernie Hettel said it looks like there will be no Thoroughbred racing at Colonial Downs in 2014, ending a stretch of 17 straight years Colonial has offered live racing.
"Quite frankly, we're so late in the year that even if we could open, we'd have to close by the last weekend of August when Timonium opens back up in Maryland," Hettel said, noting the state has had a good relationship with Maryland racing and doesn't overlap dates. "With all due diligence, if we can get this deal done, we won't race in '14."
Under the plan, the VRC rescinds its requirement to race this year if an agreement to run at least three days a week over eight weeks in 2015. Hettel characterized the June 23 meeting at the track as productive.
"The commission at its conclusion established a resolution for Colonial Downs and the Virginia HBPA to have a signed contract that would effectuate both 2014 and 2015," Hettel said. "There would be no live Thoroughbred racing in 2014, however the OTBs could open back up for Thoroughbred racing. And secondarily for '15, there'd be eight weeks of continuous racing dates.
"We'll try to grow the product from there."
Virginia HBPA executive director Frank Petramalo Jr. said canceling live racing in 2014 at Colonial Downs is a sad day for Thoroughbred owners and breeders as well as racing fans.
"In terms of my organization, we're not happy with the prospect of no racing this summer," Petramalo said. "But we recognize that here we are looking at July 1st and it would be very problematic to put together five weeks ... We'll take 24 dates over eight weeks next year with no racing this year."
By reaching a contract agreement by July 1, the OTBs would reopen for wagering on Thoroughbred racing. The anticipated opening date for Colonial in 2015 would be shortly after Pimlico Race Course concludes its spring meeting.
Petramalo noted the lack of racing is a shame for fans who turn out each year at Colonial, a crowd he noted skews younger than many racetrack crowds.
Hettel did not see the VRC sanctioning the track or horsemen if an agreement was not reached by July 1 although the VRC could demand that the 25 dates it approved for 2014 be contested. Hettel acknowledged it would be a challenge to pull off a 25-day meeting this late in the year.
"We would really have to get busy to get that done to not have a conflict with Maryland," Hettel said.
The disagreement centered on Colonial's wishes to run fewer dates with bigger purses while horsemen wanted purse money spread out over a longer schedule.