After the West Virginia Racing Commission put the future of the state's top race in jeopardy by voting Jan. 23 to slash its purse, the state's governor offered support of the Charles Town Classic Stakes (G2) continuing with its seven-figure purse.
Track officials said after the Jan. 23 meeting that if the WVRC decision to slash the Charles Town Classic's purse held up, the race would not take place in 2018. After the meeting, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that he would ask his staff to look into ways to reverse the WVRC's decision.
Two of the commissioners who supported the purse reduction, Ken Lowe Jr., who made the motion; and Anthony Figaretti, who voted in favor of the cut; were appointed last year by Justice.
"I don't dictate what my appointees do, but I am in support of the one big race, the Charles Town Classic," Justice said in a statement to the Gazette-Mail. "I have asked my staff to look into ways to have this decision reversed."
The Charles Town Classic, at $1.25 million last year and initially planned for $1.2 million in 2018, has offered the biggest purse in West Virginia. It also has earned the top current grade of any stakes race in the state at grade 2.
Lowe, a former president of the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, did not approve the stakes schedule put forward by the track, which was in line with a horsemen's agreement. Instead he made a motion to cut the Charles Town Classic purse to $300,000 or allow up to $600,000 from the purse fund be committed to the race if Charles Town matched that amount.
Track officials said the $300,000 purse would not work for the race, which aims to bring in top older horses in April. They said revenues are not available for the matching funds idea and noted that such a funding plan is out of line with how other top stakes purses are funded.
The Gazette-Mail reported that during the 2016 gubernatorial campaign, Justice talked about bringing major, Breeders' Cup-level horse races to Charles Town as part of his plan to greatly expand state tourism and create 16,000 new tourism industry jobs statewide. During the Jan. 23 WVRC meeting, Charles Town vice president of racing Erich Zimny noted that the lucrative purse was helping to accomplish that goal by bringing in top horses, a big crowd, and filling area hotel rooms for the weekend.