(By Nick Hahn/Blood-Horse)

Seeking overall growth in horse racing, the Virginia Racing Commission Dec. 19 extended Colonial Downs’ request for 40 days of live Thoroughbred racing to 45 for 2008.

While the number of days was set, factors could affect the specific dates for racing. In the commission’s approval is a window to race five days a week over nine weeks during the 10-week period between June 6 and Aug. 12.

In 2007, Colonial Downs raced 40 days from June 15-Aug. 7. In recent years, the meet has started the weekend after the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

“The reason for the flexibility was to be in communication with Maryland so that we’re working together,” said Stan Bowker, the commission’s executive director. “We have to be cognizant of what Maryland is doing to make sure that racing personnel and horses are available.”

Virginia horsemen pursued the increase in racing days. The effort was led by Frank Petramalo, executive director of the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

“The whole racing program in Virginia depends on growth to survive,” Petramalo said. “Virginia-based trainers and owners want to run and play in their own ballpark.”

Petramalo said at 45 days, Virginia has the fewest Thoroughbred racing days of any major racing state in the country followed by Arkansas with 58 days. Remaining racing states offer at least 100 days of racing.

Under the Virginia HBPA plan, average daily purses including stakes would remain at $226,000, but with the longer meet, average overnight purses would increase slightly from $152,000 to $156,000. Colonial Downs offered a plan that would have maintained the 40-day meet but would have increased average daily purses 6% to $234,000.

“We fit right into that window,” Colonial Downs general manager Iain Woolnough said. “We wanted the daily purses to go up to stay competitive with states that have other sources of revenue. We’ll go along and work out what’s best for racing in Virginia. It makes my job a little tougher.”

Under both scenarios the purses for major stakes–the $1-million Virginia Derby (gr. IIT), the $750,000 Colonial Turf Cup (gr. IIIT), the $200,000 All Along (gr. IIIT), and the $200,000 Virginia Oaks (gr. IIIT)–would remain the same.

In addition to working with Maryland, Woolnough noted the readiness of the Colonial Downs turf course would determine when the meet will begin.

“In 2007, we would have been fine running a week earlier,” he said. “In 2006, I’m not so sure it would have worked. We want to make sure the root base is where it should be.”

In other business, the commission approved the renewal the four licensed account wagering companies operating in Virginia: TVG, XpressBet, Twin Spires, and Colonial Downs/The Racing Channel