In Virginia, Five Days Makes a Big Difference

The Virginia Racing Commission has withheld approval of Colonial Downs' request for 2003 racing dates because it does not keep with a three-year plan prepared by the commission and the racetrack in 2001.

At an Oct. 16 meeting, the commission moved to continue a public hearing on the dates request until its Nov. 20 meeting. Colonial Downs requested 27 days of live racing next summer, from June 14 through July 22, with daily averaged purses of $200,000.

Under a three-year plan prepared by Colonial Downs and the Virginia Racing Task Force in 2001, Colonial was scheduled to run 32 days in 2003 with purses of $200,000 per day. The 2003 racing dates and purses levels were tied to the opening of at least one additional satellite wagering facility in Virginia, something that hasn't occurred.

There are four satellite wagering facilities in Virginia, all located in the southeastern quadrant of the state.

Based on a report prepared by commission staff, Colonial's figures over the last two years reflect an increase of 36% in daily attendance, a 42% increase in live pari-mutuel handle, a 10% increase in simulcast handle, a 36% increase in average simulcast handle, and an 11% increase in number of starters per race.

The commission estimates the amount of purse money that would available for racing in 2003 at $6.4 million, but the track's projection is $5.5 million. A contract between Colonial Downs and the Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association HPBA is being negotiated and appears to be moving forward, but should the contract not be finalized, the commission may assign the days.

"The number of days is key to us," commissioner Alan Kirshner said. "Twenty-seven days is not acceptable to this commission."

Kirshner said purses for summer racing might have to be adjusted in order to meet the objective of the plan. He said that "$200,000 is not a magic number. $195,000, $190,000, or $185,000 would probably attract the same quality of horses because we do have other things to offer."

Commission chairwoman Robin Williams was adamant in calling for 32 days of racing next summer. "There's no way I can look at $6.2 million and consider anything but 31 or 32 days," she said.

After a five-minute recess to allow for Colonial Downs' counsel to speak to representatives horsemen's groups, Peter Burnett, who represents the Virginia HBPA and also spoke on behalf of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association and the Virginia Horsemen's Association, addressed the commission.

"We are not inclined to make further comment about the request because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations," Burnett said.