Virginia: Contract Signed, Turf Festival Planned

The Virginia Racing Commission Jan. 15 approved a five-year deal between the Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and Colonial Downs. The pact has been more than a year in the making.

In addition, plans were announced for a $2-million Virginia Turf Festival in 2004. The Virginia Derby purse would remain at $500,000, but the purse for the grade III All Along Stakes would jump from $150,000 to $200,000, and the $200,000 Virginia Oaks would be added to the stakes schedule.

"The real heart is a five-year plan to double the Thoroughbred handle to $200 million, and add an extra 25 days of (live) racing," said Frank Petramalo of the Virginia HPBA. "Without growth, we may become the backwater of Thoroughbred racing."

Under the contract, Colonial Downs will open two additional satellite-wagering centers in localities where they currently exist by 2004. Six additional centers would be opened in the next five years in the central-southwestern portion of Virginia.

The contract also includes a strategy to obtain a satellite-wagering center in northern Virginia. Peter Burnett of the Virginia HPBA referred to that satellite-facility as "the motherload."

"If you put (Colonial owner Jeff Jacobs and Maryland Jockey Club president Joe De Francis) in the same room, things can get accomplished," Burnett said.

The MJC, now owned by Magna Entertainment, has a management agreement to operate Colonial. Northern Virginia, the largest metropolitan area in the state, is considered prime for off-track wagering.

With the approval of the horsemen's contract, some purse money would be used to finance the expansion of satellite-wagering centers. Burnett said the contract would not touch current handle under a tiered purse structure. Representatives on both sides informed the commission that sharing expenditures is not a new concept.

"This is not an untypical pattern from state to state," said MJC executive Tim Capps on behalf of the Maryland-Virginia Racing Circuit.

Though the Virginia Racing Act requires that designated handle be placed in purse accounts, it does not require that all of those funds be directed to purses. The commission may allow expenditures other than purses if it is not a detriment to Virginia racing. Provisions of the contract will be subject to periodic reviews of the commission.