Horsemen to Consider Charles Town Expansion

A long-awaited proposal for the expansion of the racing surface at Charles Town Races & Slots in West Virginia will be circulated to horsemen, some of which have expressed concerns over the plan.

After more than a year of discussion, Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns the track, and the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association reached an agreement on how to proceed with the expansion. The six-furlong racing surface would be expanded to seven furlongs, and live racing moved across the street to dormant Shenandoah Downs, which now serves as a training center.

Some members of the HBPA are concerned about the relocation plan, expansion of the surface, and the cost. A seven-furlong track with more forgiving turns could lure more out-of-town stock to Charles Town.

Charles Town HBPA president Dick Watson said the total project would cost $7.6 million, which PNGI and the HBPA would split 50-50. The HBPA agreed to pick up the cost--about $1 million--of getting Shenandoah ready for limited racing in the spring of 2004.

(Through mid-August, the purse account at Charles Town, which has gaming machines that return revenue to racing, had a $6.8 million underpayment. Purses have been raised twice so far this year.)

Shenandoah has a five-furlong track that has been used for training since the last live meet was held there in 1978. Because the grandstand is in a state of disrepair, temporary facilities for officials would have to be constructed. The public would not be allowed access but would instead view the races via television at neighboring Charles Town.

Because racing would be held in the afternoon rather than in the evening, it is believed simulcasting revenue would suffer. Proponents argue any losses would be more than compensated for when Charles Town reopens with a bigger racing surface.

PNGI wants to develop the Shenandoah property but has a deal with horsemen to provide for stabling when the Shenandoah barns are no longer in use. Watson said a bigger track is needed to alleviate training-hour pressures at Charles Town.

"The way it is now, you shut your eyes and hope nothing happens," Watson said. "If you added another 600 horses (from Shenandoah), it would be absolute chaos."

An informational packet containing details of the proposed expansion will be made available to all Charles Town HBPA members, some of whom believe repair of the base of the racing surface and an upgrade of drainage systems would suffice.