Plan for Virginia Derby Purse Hike in the Works

The purse for the Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs could rise to as much as $500,000 from $200,000 based on a plan presented to the Virginia Racing Commission March 20.

Jim Weinberg, counsel for Colonial Holdings Inc., said the purse for the 3-year-old turf race would be raised to $500,000 each of the next three years. The proposal, subject to commission approval, also would pump $250,000 into a capital improvement plan at Colonial Downs.

Colonial Holdings' parent company, GameCo Inc., is owned by Jeff Jacobs and the Richard Jacobs Irrevocable Trust. GameCo is also the parent company of BlackHawk Gaming & Development Co., and a number of entities that own gaming assets in Louisiana.

GameCo has asked to use the assets of Colonial Downs to guarantee a $125-million bond. Under the proposal, GameCo would invest $250,000 in the Virginia Derby in each of the next three years. The proposal would create a three-day festival, with $150,000 added to the purse by Colonial Downs and a matching amount from the purse account.

Approximately $80,000 would be provided to secure marquee entertainment, and $20,000 for promotions. An additional $250,000 would be targeted for capital improvements, and further funding would be added to expand the network of satellite wagering facilities in the state.

In the recent session of the General Assembly, several legislators questioned the need to expand the off-track wagering network. Four facilities are open now; Virginia law allows six.

Weinberg asked the commission to approve the plan in principle. After a review, the commission approved the concept subject to conditions: Colonial must provide an additional $1-million in working capital, expand the capital improvement commitment of $250,000 to three years or longer, and make the $150,000 purse increase of GameCo unilateral. Weinberg said the conditions would have to be reviewed by GameCo.

During the meeting, commission chairwoman Robin Williams said a failed attempt to get omnibus racing legislation passed was a "positive exercise." The bill failed by one vote.

"We had an opportunity to educate legislators about racing issues," she said. "The legislature was impressed to see a unified industry before them."

In other matters, Gov. Mark Warner will be a guest speaker at the Virginia Thoroughbred Association awards banquet in Richmond May 10. Warner has emphasized economic development and land preservation as high priorities, and said he recognizes the impact of horse racing.

The VTA awards banquet will be held at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. The exhibit "Gone Away," a collection of sporting art of Paul Mellon, will be on display.