A plan by Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort to offer the statutory minimum of 210 racing dates but race only eight months instead of year-round has met with opposition from horsemen and others in the community.
Mountaineer asked the West Virginia Racing Commission Oct. 26 for 2010 racing dates that would begin in March and end in October. January, February, November, and December would be dark. The WVRC requested more information from the track and postponed making a decision on dates until November.
Racing dates for Charles Town Races & Slots and two Greyhound tracks were approved. All four tracks in the state currently race year-round.
Mountaineer Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association representatives said they fear if the schedule is approved, it could mean no live racing for four consecutive months from November 2010 through February 2011 if the same plan is approved by the WVRC a year from now.
“Mountaineer built its business on year-round racing,” Mountaineer HBPA executive director Maria Catignani said Oct. 28. “This would have a negative impact not only on horsemen, but the community as well. The frustrating thing is horsemen have tried to maintain a partnership with the track. We supported video lottery terminals, table games, and earlier this year, (VLT) promotional credits.
“We were absolutely blindsided by the request. I think something could have been worked out if we had known about it.”
The horsemen's group also said a major question is whether the barn area would remain open during the down time.
Mountaineer and its horsemen’s group must negotiate a new contract. The current one expires at the end of 2009.
Mountaineer director of racing Rose Mary Williams confirmed Oct. 27 the track is seeking to condense its meet but not cut dates. On Oct. 28, she said the track submitted a request for the number of dates required by law.
As for the proposal to not race for four months in the fall and winter, Williams said: "It's economics. (The racing business) is down nationally. It's about economics and trying to remain viable."
Historically, Mountaineer has raced only the second half of January, and deals with winter weather and track condition-related cancellations early in its meet.
Mountaineer probably would have to run six days a week to meet its requirement in an eight-month period. Catignani said horsemen fear that could be a “step toward cutting dates” if six-day weeks are unsuccessful.
Representatives of horsemen at Charles Town Races & Slots and West Virginia Greyhound owners and breeders told the WVRC Oct. 27 they are concerned it “could be a sign of things to come” and happen elsewhere, Catignani said.
A petition signed by horsemen, businessmen, and others in Hancock County, W.Va., is circulating. It states “closing the racetrack over an extended period of time” will negatively impact the local economy” and “welfare of individuals at the racetrack.”
Mountaineer attracts its share of Kentucky-based horses, which will have fewer opportunities in their home state this winter. Turfway Park was approved to race only three days a week instead of five in January and February.
From Jan. 19-Feb. 28 of this year, Mountaineer raced only 18 days and paid average daily purses of $100,978 for the period, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems.
If the Mountaineer request is approved, the bulk of Thoroughbred racing in the three-state region would take place at Beulah Park, the Ohio track whose purses are among the lowest in the country. However, officials at Beulah Park, which opened earlier in October, have said there is a waiting list for stalls.