Virginia HBPA Circles Wagons in Stalemate

Letter to members says Colonial Downs is not committed to live racing in the state.

In a letter sent to its members this month, the Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association seeks to strengthen support for its organization, which is in a stalemate with Colonial Downs on race dates this season.

On April 8, Colonial Downs said it has ceased negotiations with the Virginia HBPA and is seeking horsemen to step forward and form a new representative organization who favor the track's proposal of fewer race dates and larger daily purses.

In a letter sent earlier this month, the Virginia HBPA said such an organization would only look out for the track's interests.

"Behind our back Colonial is attempting to set up a rival horsemen's group to oust the Virginia HBPA as the representative of all owners and trainers who race at Colonial Downs," said the letter from the group's board, including president David Ross. "We have done that job on your behalf for the past 17 years. Now the track wants to get rid of us because the VHBPA will not bend to Colonial's will.

"Track management wants its own horsemen's organization, not an independent VHBPA, so it can negotiate a sweet heart deal to reduce, if not eliminate, live racing in Virginia. It can only do that if a majority of horsemen like you leave the VHBPA and join the Colonial group."

On April 8, the track was not optimistic about reaching an agreement that would allow live racing in the state this year. The VHBPA letter said the track would prefer to eliminate live racing.

"Colonial's real motive is money. The track would like to eliminate live racing and instead operate year-round its eight off-track betting shops and its online wagering company," the VHBPA letter said. "Simulcast wagering on out-of-state tracks at those locations costs less and generates more profit for Colonial than running a live meet in Virginia."

In March the two sides failed to reach an agreement after a two-hour meeting with an arbitrator that also included Virginia Racing Commission executive director Bernie Hettel.

In an April letter sent by Colonial Downs president Ian Stewart to Ross, the track contends the HBPA did not give serious consideration to the track's proposed racing calendar which the track says offered options of a 27-day meeting or a 23-day meeting focused on weekend racing.