Charles Town Expansion Plan Has Twists And Turns

Management and horsemen at Charles Town Races are discussing plans to expand the six-furlong racing surface and perhaps hold races at neighboring Shenandoah Downs during the upgrade.

Officials are scheduled to meet Oct. 25 to discuss options that range from tweaking the existing surface to changing the circumference to seven furlongs and installing a six-furlong turf course inside of it. In any event, it appears change is in the wind at the 69-year-old West Virginia bull ring where the product has improved greatly because of purse revenue from video lottery terminals.

The board of directors of the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association supports a plan for a seven-furlong track that would allow for 12 starters per race instead of the current 10. With a turf course, the project would cost about $6 million.

Another plan to widen the existing surface, bank it, and install new lights would cost about $2.4 million. There are some horsemen and breeders who would prefer keeping the track three-quarters of a mile in circumference.

The project is tied to defunct Shenandoah, which still serves as a training facility. Penn National Gaming owns Charles Town Races and the Shenandoah property, which by contract with horsemen must remain a training center until other accommodations are in place. Penn National Gaming has talked of building an entertainment center and theme park at the track that closed in the late 1970s.

There are 1,100 horses stabled at Charles Town, and another 400 at Shenandoah. New barns would have to be built if the Shenandoah stalls are lost. The racing surface at Shenandoah is five furlongs in circumference.

Charles Town HBPA president Dick Watson said the West Virginia Racing Commission has been asked if it would be legal to hold races at Shenandoah, and so far, it appears to be within the law. When and if the Charles Town project begins, temporary facilities (a paddock, jockey quarters, and officials' stand), as well as lights and cameras, would be installed, and the races beamed to Charles Town and simulcast outlets.

Because Shenandoah is in a state of disrepair, only licensed personnel would be permitted on site.

"We've got to solve the down-time problem or we can't do a thing," Watson said of the fact horsemen don't want a break in their year-round racing schedule. "One of the reasons for doing it is so we don't lose our export position in all of our outlets."