Open Letter On The Colonial Downs Horsemen’s Contract Dispute

Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association

January 31, 2012

Open letter on the Colonial Downs horsemen’s contract dispute

          On January 30, 2014 Colonial Downs, Virginia’s only pari-mutuel race track, announced on its website the closing of Colonial’s eight off track betting facilities to wagering on thoroughbred races simulcast from across the country. Under the state racing law it had to do so because the track’s contract with the Virginia HBPA expired on January 29th. Those off track facilities cannot lawfully accept thoroughbred wagering until Colonial reaches a contract with the Virginia HBPA.

The heart of the contract renewal dispute between the track and the horsemen is over the 2014 summer race schedule. Colonial wants a four week meet, with twelve days of racing, which would be the shortest in the track’s history. The Virginia HBPA wants an eight week meet, which with one exception has been the norm for ten years.

Until the present dispute the Virginia HBPA had an understanding with Colonial on a formula for race days. The total amount available in the purse account was divided by $200,000 to arrive at the number of race days. Despite the fact there will likely be enough available purse money to fund an eight week meet, with thirty race days at $200,000 a day, Colonial refuses to agree on eight weeks. The primary reason is its desire to reduce the track’s overhead expenses.

Colonial is quite willing to run an eight week meet if the horsemen agree to pay from their purse account the track’s usual operating costs including, but not limited to: (1) the human ambulance for racing and training; (2) jockey insurance; (3) stall rent; (4) manure disposal; (5) the horse shuttle between Maryland and Colonial Downs; (6) programs given to horsemen in the racing secretary’s office; (6) horsemen’s admission to the fourth floor grandstand; and, (7) advertising in the Daily Racing Form and on HRTV. The track also proposed making no contribution to the horsemen’s purse account from handle at a new off track betting facility Colonial intends to open in the Richmond area.

Not surprisingly, the Virginia HBPA found Colonial’s expense shifting proposal to be unacceptable.

This past summer’s five week meet, reduced from the eight week norm and agreed to reluctantly by the Virginia HBPA on an experimental basis, illustrates what happens with a short meet. In 2013, by reducing the season to five weeks from 2012’s eight week meet, attendance dropped 25%; all source wagering handle dropped 23%; on track handle dropped 22%; signal sale revenue dropped 23%; purses paid dropped 14%; the number of races dropped 30%; total starts dropped 26%; average starts per horse dropped 20%; and, average starts by Virginia breds dropped 25%.

Those figures show the Virginia racing and breeding industry needlessly going in the wrong direction. From Colonial’s standpoint, however, the shortened meet was a success because it saved the track nearly $500,000 in overhead expenses.

Obviously there is a conflict between what is good for the Virginia horse industry and what is good for Colonial’s bottom line. The Virginia HBPA is willing to work with Colonial on accommodating those competing interests but not at the expense of an industry killing contract.



For further information contact:


Frank Petramalo, Jr.

Executive Director