Colonial Downs Ends Talks with Virginia HBPA

Two sides have been at an impasse on this year's racing dates.

While acknowledging its decision could jeopardize Thoroughbred racing in the state for this year or even several years, Colonial Downs says it has ceased negotiations with the Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Associatioin.

The track said going forward it is seeking horsemen who share its vision of racing fewer days with larger purses, including a six-day Virginia Derby Festival in September with purses exceeding $500,000. The track did not sound optimistic about reaching any type of agreement with horsemen on race dates this season.

In an April 8 release, the track said it is in the process of identifying a group of horsemen who share its vision and who want to implement the track's racing dates plan by entering into a new horsemen's agreement with Colonial Downs.  

"In light of the damage done to Virginia racing by the Virginia HBPA's unilateral actions, Colonial Downs realizes that, unfortunately, there may be no Thoroughbred racing in Virginia this year," said track owner Jeff Jacobs. "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."

Virginia HBPA representatives could not immediately be reached for comment April 8.

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

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

The Virginia HBPA is seeking a longer meet and said it believes there would be enough money for an eight-week meet with average daily purses of $200,000. The horsemen's group contends a longer meet is necessary to persuade stables to justify shipping from other states, with potential for some horses to possibly race three times at Colonial Downs.

With no agreement in place, several Colonial Downs off-track betting locations were closed in late January and have not reopened.

"It appears that these negotiations have lead us nowhere," Stewart said in the letter. "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."