Virginia Racing Plans Continue to Take Shape

Virginia Equine Alliance plans in-state races; Colonial Downs angles for racing.

The Virginia Equine Alliance plans to run a day of flat racing Sept. 20 at Great Meadow, while the owners of Colonial Downs continue to float proposals to offer racing through an alternative horsemen's group.

For now, the more concrete plans are the six turf races at Great Meadow that will include pari-mutuel wagering set for the third Sunday in September. The turf races will be from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/2 miles and will rely on steeplechase riders.

The Sept. 20 races, Virginia Downs at Great Meadow, are part of the Virginia Equine Alliance's late summer and fall racing schedule that includes racing at Laurel Park beginning with the Sept. 12 $150,000 All Along Stakes (gr. IIIT), followed by the $250,000 Commonwealth Turf Cup (gr. IIT) and $400,000 Commonwealth Derby (gr. IIT) Sept. 19.

On Sept. 26, Virginia Equine Alliance will offer five stakes for Virginia-breds, each worth $60,000, and the $150,000 Commonwealth Oaks (gr. IIIT) at Laurel.

Virginia Equine Alliance also will offer flat races as part of the International Gold Cup card Oct. 24 at Great Meadow.

Next year Virginia Equine Alliance hopes to offer additional race days at Morven Park near Leesburg, Va.

Virginia Thoroughbred Association executive director Debbie Easter said plans call for those races to be offered on a "Kentucky Downs-style" course. The races would feature pari-mutuel wagering and would use riders who regularly compete in flat racing, as opposed to steeplechase riders.

Meanwhile, in what seems like more of a longshot, Colonial Downs has announced plans to conduct one day of racing Nov. 30, although the track acknowledges the Virginia Racing Commission would have to approve the race day. Colonial currently does not have a racing license or an agreement with the Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which is the horsemen's group recognized by the VRC.

Colonial proposes to run the Nov. 30 race day through an agreement with the Old Dominion Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, a group that is currently not recognized by the VRC. Colonial said if its race date is approved, it would accept entries Nov. 23.

Colonial said any owner or trainer who enters a horse for the Nov. 30 races will become members of the Old Dominion Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. The track said it would offer eight races worth a total of $232,000 plus up to $73,800 in starter bonuses.

"All licensed owners and trainers starting or entering a horse in any of these races shall become a member of the Old Dominion Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association," notes a form the track is requiring to be signed to enter a horse. The track notes that any owner or trainer who has signed and returned this "expression of interest" form will receive $2,000 if Colonial does not conduct the race day.

A website for the ODTHA lists Tim Valente as president and Mark Deane as vice president. The website says that Valente is managing partner of Seminole Racing Stable. According to Equibase statistics, Seminole has had two starts since 2009.

Colonial said it would like to offer 20 days of racing next year. The Virginia HBPA and Colonial Downs failed to reach an agreement on a racing schedule last year, with horsemen wanting more dates and Colonial favoring fewer dates. With the dispute unsettled, no racing has been offered at Colonial since July 13, 2013.

Meanwhile, bettors in the state have been wagering through advance-deposit wagering companies. The VTA reports that nearly $6 million was wagered on horse races through ADW companies TVG, TwinSpires, and XpressBet.

Since Colonial's ADW, EZ Horseplay, went out of business in April, the remaining ADW's have seen an upswing in business. TVG is up almost 26% with a $19,796,612 total, $4 million ahead of 2014. TwinSpires is up nearly 19% at $15,815,304 while XpressBet is up 2% at $7,089,986.

"When you consider the challenges the Virginia horse racing industry has encountered this year, the ADW figures are very respectable," said Virginia HBPA executive director Frank Petremalo. "We hope this recent momentum continues into August since the Saratoga and Del Mar meets are in full swing. We may also see two appearances by American Pharoah  in the same month if his owner decides to race him in the Travers Stakes (gr. I) on August 29."

In Virginia, ADW revenues from a 9% tax are split between horsemen (the Virginia HBPA) and the racing license holder, which had been Colonial but now is the Virginia Equine Alliance. The VEA includes the Virginia Thoroughbred Association, the Virginia HBPA, the Virginia Harness Horse Association, and the Virginia Gold Cup. It was formed in November 2014 following the decision by Colonial to surrender its racing license.