With New Regime, Charles Town Plan Altered

Live racing at Charles Town Races & Slots will be suspended for about three weeks in August so workers can replace the racing surface, bank the turns, and install new lighting. The announcement represents a dramatic shift in plans for Charles Town, largely because of the result of the December 2003 election for the presidency and board of the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns the West Virginia track, said work is scheduled to begin Aug. 2 and would conclude Aug. 25. Simulcasting and gaming will continue uninterrupted.

"These improvements reflect our ongoing commitment to live racing at Charles Town, and are part of our continued investment in the facility and its amenities, which have resulted in a premier entertainment center for the region and the state," PNGI chairman Peter Carlino said in a prepared statement. "Our partnership and cooperation with the horsemen at Charles Town has revived first-class racing at the facility."

Last year, the Charles Town HBPA, then headed by Dick Watson, advocated expansion of the six-furlong track to 6 1/2 furlongs or seven furlongs and the possible addition of a turf course. Watson had said the racing surface must be expanded to accommodate all the horses that train at Charles Town and old Shenandoah Downs, whose days as a training facility are numbered.

As of late last year, the underpayment in the purse account was approaching $10 million. Watson was in discussions with PNGI to split the costs of the racetrack expansion project.

Some members of the HBPA who gained control when Watson was defeated late last year claimed the full membership didn't have a chance to vote on whether Watson's plan was in the best interests of horsemen. He then sought input on the proposal. It wasn't immediately known whether the full HBPA membership was asked for input on the latest plan.

With purses at Charles Town having been increased to more than $200,000 a day, the underpayment has been cut in half in about five months.