The connections of Imperative celebrate his victory in the 2017 Charles Town Classic

The connections of Imperative celebrate his victory in the 2017 Charles Town Classic

Coady Photography

Charles Town Stakes Schedule Faces Regulatory Hurdle

Racing commission tables any decision on track's stakes schedule until January.

The 2018 stakes schedule for Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races is still up in the air after the West Virginia Racing Commission did not take action on the proposal at its December meeting.

Track officials said one racing commissioner at the December meeting called for a 75% reduction in the purse of the $1.25 million Charles Town Classic (G2). WVRC executive director Joe Moore was out of the office Dec. 28 and could not be reached for comment on where opposition to the track's stakes schedule is coming from, but the three commissioners are expected to consider the stakes schedule again in January.

A 75% reduction in the West Virginia Classic would see that purse move to about $300,000, which would figure to make it difficult to attract some of the top handicap horses the race has landed in recent years. The track already has an agreement with horsemen in place on stakes funding for the 2018 season. 

At the January meeting, track officials plan to make the argument that the West Virginia Classic should retain its $1.25 million purse as they believe that the April race—and the seven other stakes featured on the card—attract horseplayers to the track.

The track keeps a long-term stat on wagering per purse dollar. It has improved from $4.20 in handle for each purse dollar in 2009 to $7.83 in 2017. Charles Town vice president of racing Erich Zimny credits that improvement to the addition of big races like the $1.25 million Charles Town Classic, which made its debut in 2009. Zimny said Classic day, which includes seven other stakes, is attracting handle to the Charles Town signal.

"It's a stat that we like to use over larger blocks of time to see if the mix of races that you're offering are the most efficient use of the purse dollars that you have at your disposal," Zimny said. "Are there things you can do with the schedule to possibly generate more interest over the year? When you look at it, we've used the purse dollars more efficiently than ever before to generate wagering."

Zimny believes big race days have brought eyeballs to the track, which long-term, has helped Charles Town compete in a crowded simulcast market.

"Back 10 years ago, when we just ran kind of the same day, after the same day, after the same day for 200-plus days, there's nothing differentiating day one from day 100, from day 200," Zimny said. "It turned out that that was a completely inefficient use of money, which I think speaks to the stakes program's value in creating a branding effect for our racetrack. Where we've used those purse dollars in large sums on those races, the efficiency in terms of use of the purse fund to create wagering hasn't gone down; it's gone up dramatically."

The 1,369 races offered at Charles Town in 2017 are down 35% from 2009. But while the track—like many tracks in recent years—has reduced its number of races, it has increased average wagering per race 64% to a record $135,821. Zimny said that improvement has reduced the need for further slashing of races and purses.

Zimny hopes that when Charles Town provides all of these statistics to the regulator, its 2018 stakes schedule will be approved.

"Enough can't be said about the operational execution and performance of the racing team here at Charles Town not only in 2017 but over the course of the last several years," Zimny said. "Through pari-mutuel performance, there have been millions of incremental dollars generated that have saved a significant number of live racing days and purses from being slashed any further. The formula we've developed has worked very, very well and while we've set the bar high, we look forward to the challenge of keeping the momentum going in 2018."