The Virginia Racing Commission approved an Off Track Betting Center license for Breakers Sports Grille in Henrico County at its monthly meeting on Tuesday. This is the first one approved since Colonial Downs shut down its remaining OTBs last April. Even at that point, the remaining three were strictly EZ Horseplay Betting Centers — the last true OTBs closed in November, 2014.
The Virginia Equine Alliance (VEA) filed for the license for Breakers, which is located at 9127 W. Broad Street in the T.J. Maxx Shopping Center, just several miles east of where the former Colonial Downs OTB at Hurleys and Finn McCools was located. Acting Virginia Racing Commission Executive Secretary David Lermond thought the site could potentially handle $5 million in a year, though the VEA predicted a more conservative estimate of $3,000,000.
No timetable has been set for an opening, though VEA officials want to move as quickly as possible. A couple final details still need to be worked out, and renovations need to be done to the inside of Breakers to accommodate betting terminals and extra televisions that will carry up to eight simulcast feeds from tracks around the country at any one time. Simulcast agreements also need to be executed with all partner tracks as well. Progress updates will be available at www.vabred.org, www.virginiahorseracing.com, and social media platforms of both websites.
In other meeting news, the Commission unanimously approved several initiatives proposed by both the VTA (Virginia Thoroughbred Association) and VAHBPA (Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association). A total of $500,000 is being earmarked for a new owners bonus program of Virginia-bred horses that win an overnight race in any of the following Mid-Atlantic region states: Maryland, West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Owners will receive a 25% bonus on top of their purse earnings for a win from July 1 – December 31. The bonus will be capped at $10,000 per victory. Money for the initiative will come from the HBPA’s restricted funds account. Further details will be up shortly at www.vabred.org.
Funding to run a pair of graded stakes and a Virginia-bred maiden race in Maryland was also approved. The $250,000 Commonwealth Derby (Gr. II) and $150,000 Commonwealth Oaks will both be held at Laurel on September 24th in conjunction with five $60,000 Virginia-bred stakes, which were approved earlier in the year. The Maryland Jockey Club (MJC) and Maryland HBPA will combine to split the cost of the two stakes with the Virginia HBPA, so a $200,000 allotment was approved by the VRC. The Virginia horsemen will also receive the share of proceeds from betting on those graded stakes that ordinarily would have gone to the Maryland horsemen.
A $30,000 maiden race for Virginia-bred fillies and mares was also approved to be contested at Pimlico this Saturday, June 25th, as part of a new Mid-Atlantic Day event which includes a trio of $60,000 Virginia-bred stakes, a pair of $75,000 Maryland-bred stakes and a Virginia-bred maiden sprint for colts.
“The key to this expenditure is to keep the graded status of the Derby and Oaks in tact,” said HBPA Executive Director Frank Petramalo. “When pari-mutuel thoroughbred racing returns to Virginia, having a pair of graded stakes races from the outset will give us instant standing nationally, will bring attention to Virginia racing and help us attract horsemen to race here.” If a stakes race is not run in two straight years, it loses its grade.
As part of the agreement, the MJC will offer a similar deal next year (to host and share the cost of the graded Commonwealth stakes) if the race course at Morven Park, future home of Virginia thoroughbred racing, is not for racing in 2017. The MJC will also receive rights to the Commonwealth Turf Cup, a Grade 2 stakes that was held at Laurel last September and had been known as the Colonial Turf Cup prior. They are expected to hold that stakes race as well this fall to keep the grade.
Jeb Hannum, Executive Director of the VEA, provided status reports on work going on at Leesburg’s Morven Park (thoroughbred) and Woodstock’s Shenandoah Downs (harness). Morven is building an equestrian horse park with two show rings in the infield of the racetrack, and work on that project needs to fit in with the VEA’s plans to renovate the race course itself in a cohesive manner, especially from an engineering perspective. Mr. Hannum said it has been a challenging process but on Friday, the VEA signed off on a concept that has been given to an engineer, who will draw up and finalize plans for approval from Loudon County. Renowned track superintendent John Passero has been hired as a consultant to advise on the Morven project. “He visited the facility last week and was excited by the prospects,” noted Mr. Hannum.
Mr. Hannum reported that everything is still on target for a pari-mutuel harness racing meet this fall at Shenandoah Downs. The license application for a ten day meet to be held over five consecutive weekends (from September 10 – October 9) will be submitted for approval at the next Racing Commission meeting. Tom Eshelman, GM of the Shendandoah County Fairgrounds, added that 15 pieces of equipment are currently moving dirt in that renovation project, which will see the track widened and turns banked. “The track was 45 feet wide and when finished, it will be 65-70 feet wide,” said Mr. Eshelman. He added that almost every weekend will have a festival on the grounds in addition to harness races, from a wine theme to chili, seafood and craft beer.
The next meeting of the Virginia Racing Commission was tentatively set for Thursday August 18 at 10 AM.