Virginia Dates OK'd; Three-State Circuit Proposed

The Virginia Racing Commission on Monday approved a revised live racing schedule for Colonial Downs that dovetails with dates in neighboring Maryland. For next year, one racing official has floated a plan to create a three-state circuit designed to capitalize on each state's assets.

Maryland Jockey Club president Joe De Francis hinted that agreement on dates for 2002 may occur sooner than next year -- perhaps prior to Thanksgiving -- and that the agreement may involve Delaware Park. After the Virginia commission meeting, De Francis stated that even with purses fueled by slot-machine revenue, Delaware Park, like the Maryland tracks, has difficulty filling races.

"I think even though we've obviously gone through a lot of turmoil over the last few months, every cloud has a silver lining," De Francis said. "One of the silver linings here is that its forced everyone to focus on the need for the three states to cooperate with each other in order to make racing in the Mid-Atlantic successful relative to our competition around the country, whether it be New York, Kentucky, or California.

"When you look at the various assets and liabilities of the different jurisdictions, there is a unique synergy between the assets. One of Delaware's problems is racing from April through November, they can't use their turf course through the entire period. By mid-summer, their turf course is basically hamburger. Having the great turf course that Colonial has is a real asset, and to fold that in with racing in Delaware and racing in Maryland, I think we can create a very strong three-state circuit that could make the simulcast signal competitive literally with any other jurisdiction in the country."

Delaware Park officials couldn't be reached for comment. Track owner William Rickman Jr. owns Ocean Downs, a Maryland harness track, and also plans to build a racetrack in western Maryland.

This year, Colonial Downs will race 25 days from July 3-Aug. 7. During the first week of the meet, Colonial Downs will race Tuesday, July 3, and Wednesday, July 4. There will be no racing Friday, July 6, or Saturday, July 7. The regular Friday-through-Tuesday schedule will begin July 8.

The Virginia Derby, the track's marquee event, is tentatively scheduled for July 14.

Though racing commissioners responded positively to the 2001 schedule, they indicated they would prefer an easier process next year. Colonial Downs had planned to run from early June to early July this year, but those dates conflicted with the Maryland schedule.

"I think we've all learned a lot of lessons, commissioner Alan Kirshner said. "We need better communication between commissions and better communication between horsemen. Right now our number one priority is the live meet. We have to get together early next year. We're all going to pull together and make it go. But this is not the way to do business. I think you'll agree that the commission has been very patient."

"We really need to upgrade the communications with Maryland," commissioner Earnest Oare said.