Mountaineer Deal Calls for Hike in Minimum Claiming Price

After a few years of contractual disputes, Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort and the Mountaineer Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association have agreed on a three-year contract that calls for increases in live racing dates and a hike in the minimum claiming price at the West Virginia track.

The deal, which authorizes simulcasting for the three years, was inked Jan. 10 after a contentious two weeks during which each side accused the other of negotiating in bad faith. Lawyers for both sides met Jan. 6 and the negotiations continued for days.

The agreement includes "an effort to conduct 232 racing days in 2004," but acknowledges that "due to the cancellation of racing thus far, a maximum of 228 racing days are anticipated in 2004." Thereafter, the "best possible effort" would be made to race 232 days, director of racing Rose Mary Williams said.

Live racing is scheduled to resume Jan. 19. The new contract guarantees Mountaineer will card 10 races each night for eight months, and no less than nine races the remainder of the year. In a change management has sought for some time, the bottom claiming price will increase from $4,000 to $5,000 from July 1 to Dec. 1, 2005. After that, the minimum will be revisited.

Also, the horsemen's bookkeeper will become a Mountaineer employee following a transition period. Lora Bailey, wife of Mountaineer HBPA president Chuck Bailey, currently fills the position and also serves as HBPA executive director. After a transition period, Bailey will relinquish the bookkeeper's job.

HBPA officials couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

The programs of Jan. 3-6 were lost to the dispute. Management implemented an $8 stall rental fee for all horses that remained on the grounds for training, but said it never cashed the checks and would return the money to trainers and owners.

Mountaineer and the HBPA each lost about $175,000 during the down time.

The racing product at Mountaineer, once home to $1,500 claimers that raced for less than $2,000 a race, has become big business. The track now handles almost $2 million a night on its product, while total purses for 2003 approached $39 million, one of the highest outlays in the country. The average purse per race last year was $17,765 even though most programs featured at least four races for $4,000 claimers.