Members of the Virginia Equine Alliance (VEA) provided updates on current and future projects at Wednesday’s (March 2nd) meeting of the Virginia Racing Commission, which took place in the Patrick Henry Building in downtown Richmond.
In regards to live racing initiatives, VEA Executive Director Jeb Hannum informed commissioners that a lease to conduct thoroughbred racing beginning in 2017 has been signed with Morven Park (in Leesburg). Morven officials have submitted plans for a Horse Park, which now includes thoroughbred racing, to Loudoun County for approval. As soon as the permit is approved, excavation work can begin to prepare the track for racing. Mr. Hannum anticipates that work can begin in late spring or early summer. The VEA and Shenandoah County Fair Association (in Woodstock, VA) are still working through final details on a lease to conduct standardbred racing at that venue beginning this fall. The VEA is moving forward with the project in the meanwhile, and final track enhancement plans from the engineer and track consultant are now in the hands of a contractor to get a firm price.
In regards to the establishment of an Off Track Betting (OTB) Center network, the VEA is awaiting final proposals from potential partners like United Tote, FasTrack and the Maryland Jockey Club. Members of the VEA recently visited a handful of restaurants/bars in the Richmond area that could serve as potential OTB partner locations should the VEA want to move forward on their own in the meanwhile. Mr. Hannum said two locations in particular stood out and they will continue to pursue.
A new website — www.virginiahorseracing.com — will debut soon and will cater to all interested parties of the industry, from breeders to horsemen, and to horseplayers and live race event attendees. Mr. Hannum also discussed the formation of a VEA Foundation, either as a 501-C3 or as a 501-C4 corporation. The VEA will need one of these to license race meets at Morven Park and at Woodstock.
Frank Petramalo gave an update on the Virginia HBPA and said their group will host joint informational membership meetings with the VTA the next two Sunday evenings at 6 PM — on March 6th at the Meadow Event Center in Doswell and on March 13th at Buchanan Hall (on Route 50) in Upperville. The new HBPA Board of Directors includes four new members — Ferris Allen, Woodberry Payne, Dr. Doug Daniels and Larry McDade. Officers include David Ross (President), Stephanie Nixon (Vice-President), Donna Dennehy (Treasurer) and Diana McClure (Secretary).
Mr. Petramalo, along with Debbie Easter, Jeb Hannum and Ferris Allen, met with Sal Sinatra and Georganne Hale of the Maryland Jockey Club last week to discuss running Virginia-bred stakes in Maryland again in 2016. A three phase proposed game plan came out of the meeting that first includes a Mid-Atlantic Day at Pimlico June 25th featuring three $60,000 Virginia-bred stakes, three Maryland-bred stakes, and a maiden race for each state-bred group as well. Phase two would feature the Grade II Commonwealth Derby (at a reduced purse of $250,000) and Grade III, $150,000 Commonwealth Oaks on July 2nd at Laurel Park. The final phase would be the traditional fall Virginia-bred Day at Laurel on September 24th that features five $60,000 stakes and possibly the Grade II, $250,000 Commonwealth Turf Cup. Mr. Petramalo said it would be helpful if the VRC voted today to allow the HBPA to supply purse monies for the Virginia-bred stakes in Maryland on June 25 and September 24. The ability to promote these opportunities at the upcoming HBPA/VTA Sunday information sessions will be helpful to horsemen. Prior to the vote, Commissioner Van Clief referred to the 2015 Virginia-bred Stakes Day at Laurel as a “slam dunk”. Mr. Pertramalo said field size for each of the five last fall was very strong — between nine and twelve starters — and that combined on-track and simulcast handle of the five stakes was $1.3 million. The Virginia horsemen receive 2 3/4% of that handle. That motion was put to vote and passed unanimously. Any action on the graded stakes will take place at future meeting — Mr. Petramalo hopes the Maryland Jockey Club and Maryland horsemen can share half the cost of purses for both the Derby and Oaks. The Turf Cup would be a future discussion topic as well.
Dr. Scott Woogen, President of the Virginia Harness Horsemen’s Association (VHHA), gave a progress report on standardbred racing at Woodstock. He said horsemen will be given opportunities to race on six consecutive weekends beginning Labor Day weekend, when the Shenandoah Fair itself hosts its three annual days of non-betting races. Pari-mutuel harness racing will then take place the following five weekends. Highlight of the meet will be the $320,000 Virginia Breeders’ Day, where eight $40,000 championship races are contested featuring 2 and 3 year old pacers and trotters of both sexes. Once a lease has been finalized and signed and permits have been approved, the VEA will put in a formal date request with the VRC.
Dr. Will Allison gave an update on the May Virginia Gold Cup Race card at Great Meadow and said a $400,000 purse structure is set for the event. The day will consist of five steeplechase and three flat races, though one of the flat races could overfill and have to split into two divisions. Dr. Allison noted that all races, whether it’s a jump or flat event, are Virginia-bred preferred. Sales are up 5% to this point and a crowd of 70,000 is expected.
Two action items in relation to Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW) company contracts were addressed. Commissioners voted unanimously to pass new three year agreements with both Twin Spires and XPressBet. Mr. Hannum noted that the VEA, HBPA and Virginia Breeders have received their respective shares of January payments from Twin Spires.
The next VRC meeting will take place April 27th at 10 AM at a location to be determined.