The West Virginia Racing Commission Jan. 18 approved allocation of more than $1 million in purse and bonus money for this year's grade II West Virginia Derby, and also allowed for race schedule changes at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort.
Mountaineer had requested $750,000 for the West Virginia Derby and up to $300,000 in owner and trainer bonuses in an effort to attract grade I winning 3-year-olds. The funds come from a special video lottery account for such purposes.
The Derby will be held Aug. 3 as part of a special all-stakes afternoon program. The WVRC also approved 13 other stakes at Mountaineer in 2013.
Mountaineer and the Mountaineer Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association signed a new contract in December. The 2013 meet will run from March 1-Dec. 20 with racing five nights a week on a Friday-through-Tuesday schedule.
Mountaineer requested and was granted permission to offer nine instead of 10 races per program from March through September, and offer 10 instead of nine races per card from October through December. Director of racing Rose Mary Williams said the change is needed to avoid a shortage of horses when more tracks are open in the region.
"The business reason for the change is that when we have full fields, we get better (pari-mutuel) handle," Williams said.
Mountaineer HBPA president John Baird said horsemen have been discussing the issue and agree with management.
"We had a lot of short fields last March," said Baird, a locally based trainer. "Then horsemen came to me in the fall and said they had more horses but only nine races each night. We like fuller fields, because it means more money for us."
Baird also said the horsemen's group signed off on the 2013 stakes schedule.
Mountaineer in 2012 held 201 racing programs. Purses totaled $24.27 million for an average of $115,584 per day, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems.