At yesterday’s Virginia Racing Commission meeting, Chairman Clinton Miller made a point of discussing the now infamous editorial in The Hook, noting it was imperative that industry stakeholders respond to articles that present misinformation as fact.  That said, here’s Nick Hahn’s response…
“You’re Off”

Ms. Giles article on Colonial Downs and Virginia Racing had so many inaccuracies and unsubstantiated accusations, that format may prevent correcting all of them in a single response, but I’ll try to do my best.

“Virginia has never had much in the way of horse racing.”  Really?  Four Kentucky Derby winners, six Preakness winners, and eleven Belmont Stakes winners.  If anything Virginia horse racing was too strong as its breeding industry thrived for nearly a century despite the lack of support in the legislature. Virginia racing eroded its retention because it was forced to export its thoroughbreds because it lacked live racing. What might have happened in Virginia if Governor Mann hadn’t abolished pari-mutuel racing in the early 1900s.  For the next century, it survived solely as a breeding state…and for those who do not know, Secretariat who still holds the record in all Triple Crown races, is a Virginia-bred.

“Virginia embraces horse racing.”  Did you know about Quality Road, Winchester, Victor’s Cry, Researcher, or Horse of the Year St. Liam (Kentucky-bred but bred by a Virginia breeder).  Let me pause here a minute while you Google them up.  These are a few Virginia-breds that have recently won at racing’s top level that few in Virginia know.  While Colonial Downs is nationally and even internationally known and recognized for its turf racing, the amount of Virginians that support it is hardly a full embrace.  The General Assembly hardly embraces racing strapping its functionality down with referenda requirements, breakage grabs, etc. 

“Dutrow” – Rick Dutrow started two horses at Colonial Downs this summer, neither of which made the money.  Virginia was the first state to ban and begin steroid testing on horses and will honor bans generated in other states. Dutrow’s ban is currently under appeal in New York.  The Virginia Racing Commission (VRC) has been very proactive on issues such as whip use, drug testing, licensing and breakdown research. 

“Corrupt” decision on the operator’s application? The VRC’s decision withstood a three-year appeal process by a disgruntled applicant that had his application turned down.  It might still be contested if the applicant had to withdraw his appeal to deal with his own legal issues.  At the time of the VRC’s awarding of the license, northern Virginia had turned down the Redskins stadium, Legoland and Disney largely due to traffic concerns.  New Kent offered free land and great access.  Three of the six application submitted targeted New Kent.  More than a few liked New Kent’s site.

“Enable the Downs to enjoy a monopoly?” Can Virginia really support two tracks and the pari-mutuel network to support them?  The grandstand that Colonial Downs built was a $50 million facility in the late nineties when it was built.  Who is going to step up and build another one and generate the hundreds of millions in handle that is needed to support it? 

“Enforce the 150 race days required by the Racing Act.”  The act has been (correctly) amended by the legislature several times to allow the VRC to determine the correct number of day that Virginia racing can support.  Within the last half-decade the VRC has attempted several times to stretch out the number of racing days.  It started some very disturbing trends in regard to attendance, field size and most importantly handle.  If you don’t race for at least $175,000/day in Virginia, the economic model begins to break down quickly.  Extending the number of live racing days has been attempted several times with no breakthroughs only setbacks. 

“Maryland Jockey Club involvement?”  Maryland within the last two decades has been able to support year round racing.  Today, between the two states, there isn’t enough purse money to continue year round racing.  What would lead you to believe the two states shouldn’t work together to seek this goal?  Are there enough experienced personnel in a relatively new racing state in Virginia to safely offer racing?  The outriders, gate staff, and administrative personal that Colonial hires via Maryland during their meet are among the most experienced in the nation.  Even the track announcer is known nationwide for his clear race calls and accurate eye.  The amount of personnel (read that jobs, Governor) needed to conduct live racing is immense.

“That’s also Colonial Downs’ address”…an inference to improprieties due to the commission’s physical location.  That’s part of the strict regulatory nature of horse racing in Virginia.  Name any other industry in Virginia where its enforcement agency is located onsite.  I don’t see restaurants and pubs petitioning the Commonwealth to set up ABC enforcement offices in their parking lots.  All racing employees that do the work to create live racing are those who ship in for the duration of a 33-day meet or just a weekend of the meet.   So let’s get them to drive across town to get their mandatory licensing that includes fingerprint and background checks.  Let’s not have enforcement staff or veterinarians available on-site to immediate address situations when they do occur.  By the way, the VRC address is 10700 Horsemen’s Road.  Colonial’s address is 10515 Colonial Downs Parkway.  The VRC offices are located across the mile and a quarter oval from Colonial’s office.  Colonial keeps the racing secretary and horsemen’s bookkeeper offices on the backstretch, next to VRC. 

The labeling in the article to include “Farce”, “Corrupt”, and “Bent and Broken Laws” is either unsupported or grossly misdirected.  However, the publication of your article does invoke my fear.  It’s scary in modern times that an article like this gets published showing how little sportswriters know about horse racing.   That alone should invoke fear among those that lead our industry.