Inclement Weather Hampers Manor Downs Renovations

Record rainfall in Texas has hindered track renovations at Manor Downs near Austin -- renovations that must be completed by Dec. 12 to ensure the track retains its live racing days in 2001 and, thus, its ability to simulcast.

In 1999, Manor Downs was ordered by the Texas Racing Commission to expand its racetrack circumference by Nov. 15 of this year to accommodate all breeds of racing, as mandated by state law. Members of the commission warned Manor officials at the time that the track would lose its ability to offer live racing and simulcasting if the renovations were not completed by that time.

Representatives of the track, which has conducted only brief Quarter Horse meets in the spring, were slow to respond to that directive. They were forced to go back to the commission in October to seek an extension to that deadline. After much debate, an extension was granted by a 5-3 vote.

Inclement weather has again placed Manor in danger of missing the deadline. More than 11 inches of rain has fallen on the greater Austin area since the commission granted the extension Oct. 10. The precipitation has severely compromised construction efforts, and crews are working as much as 13-hour days to try to overcome the delay.

"If there is any way humanly possible to get the track done by December 12, we will get it done," said Howard Phillips, chief operating officer of Manor Downs. "We're in the final stages. We're laying the base in, and once we get that finished, weather won't be an issue. But the rain has hurt us; it's been unbelievable. We're still upbeat, still 100% committed, and we'll work on it as long as we have to in order to get finished."

Phillips said the construction would continue even if the deadline were missed.

It is difficult to judge how sympathetic the eight members of the racing commission will be to the new delay. Several commissioners have been outspoken in their frustration over Manor Downs and a perceived lack of commitment by track officials to comply with directives. One commissioner, former racing commission executive director Larry Christopher, has been very vocal in his frustration, and he went so far as to chastise Phillips in October for the continued "dog-ate-my-homework- excuses."

"I think the commission is always open and willing to listen to what people have to say on any issue," said Paula Flowerday, the commission's executive secretary. "I can't speculate on what position the commission might take on the weather situation, but I am sure (the commissioners) would be open to hearing anything Manor officials have to say on the subject."

Manor Downs has been granted 32 days of racing in 2001, 10 of which have been earmarked for Thoroughbred racing.