A two-hour meeting March 12 between the Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, representatives of Colonial Downs, and an arbitrator failed to yield an agreement over 2014 racing dates in Virginia.
In fact, following the meeting with retired judge Dennis W. Dohnal that also included Virginia Racing Commission executive director Bernie Hettel, the two sides were as far apart as they had been when negotiations began last September. They had found some common ground earlier during the more than a dozen meetings that have taken place.
"He (Dohnal) put everybody together, and after about two hours he said they had irreconcilable differences and there was not much more he can do for us," Hettel said of the meeting.
Colonial Downs initially proposed a boutique meet of six days with $3 million in purses that would include all of the stakes the track traditionally cards. Track president Ian Stewart has said the track operator believes such a meet would improve the quality of racing in the state.
The Virginia HBPA, however, is seeking a longer stand 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.
In an effort to resolve the dates issue, the VRC last December approved the same 25 days of racing over a five-week period—similar to the 2013 schedule—with an understanding that it could be adjusted if the two parties reached agreement on some other number of live racing days.
Colonial Downs was willing to race the same number of days this year as last, but horsemen remain adamant about the longer stand, resulting in the protracted stalemate. Hettel said due to the length of the dispute, Colonial Downs has reverted to its initial insistence upon a six-day meet.
"Both sides are entrenched in their positions. Now it's like a divorce—almost like they can't stand to be in the room with one another," Hettel said of the HBPA and Colonial Downs representatives. "It's not that it's personal; it's just a philosophical difference on what is best for Virginia racing.
"You've got the HBPA wanting eight weeks to allow horses to run three times at the meet and get horses from Tampa Bay or Kentucky or wherever, to come in and stay to make it cost-effective to ship in. The other side says that we aspire to get better, and maintaining the status quo is not good for our reputation or our quality. Both have some viability to them."
With no set deadline for racing dates to be finalized in Virginia, Hettel said there is still time to resolve the issue before the meet, which traditionally begins in early June. While he believes it allows trainers more time to plan by having the dates decided in December of the preceding year, in past years dates sometimes have not been ratified until April due to negotiations between the horsemen and track management.