Horsemen, Track at Odds Over Entry System

New-found wealth doesn't come without its share of problems.

At Charles Town Races, where purses a few years ago averaged $22,000 a day but now average $125,000 per day, horsemen and management are battling over the way horses draw into races.

The local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association claims the racing office isn't adhering to a "preference date system" in the track's condition book, and in turn is favoring horses stabled in other states at the expense of local horsemen. Management says it sees no real problem with the manner in which races are drawn.

Racetracks use the date system to ensure horses have an opportunity to race. For example, a horse that raced three weeks ago would have preference over one that raced two weeks ago.

The Charles Town HBPA said the racing office is using only Charles Town last-run dates. For instance, if a horse raced at the West Virginia track June 1, and then in Maryland twice thereafter, its last-run date would remain June 1. Meanwhile, horsemen who don't ship from Charles Town are having trouble getting horses entered, the HBPA said.

Dick Watson, president of the Charles Town HBPA, went so far as to protest the draws for several races June 28-29, and suggested to the racing office and the West Virginia Racing Commission that horses be scratched "for using an erroneous run date."

In response to two of Watson's letters, the board of stewards -- J. Frank Utterback Jr., Danny Wright, and L. Robert Lotts -- replied in writing that the draw for the races in question "was consistent with the drawing of all races in the past" and wouldn't be altered.

"We have been using the system incorrectly for years, but that doesn't mean we have to continue doing it," Watson said.

Jim Buchanan, president and chief operating officer of Charles Town Races, said he empathizes with local horsemen, but that the system now used has led to full fields of quality horses. He also said he believes local horsemen have plenty of opportunities to run given the five-day racing week.

"With our larger purses, having good horses come in is healthy for racing and for our export signal," Buchanan said. "And just because (horsemen aren't stabled here) doesn't mean they haven't supported us in the past."

In a July 2 letter to Watson, Buchanan indicated the system could be examined in the future to see if any improvements could be made. Meanwhile, the Charles Town HBPA has requested a hearing before the racing commission.

"If (the commissioners) look at the rule book, they'd have to say to the track, 'You're violating the rule,' " Watson said.