Racing Commission Meeting Recap: 5 Key Updates

The regular monthly meeting of the Virginia Racing Commission (VRC) took place July 29 at the Patrick Henry Building in downtown Richmond. Five key agenda items were addressed and approved: A day of thoroughbred racing at Great Meadow on September 20th along with continuation of owner bonuses (from the Virginia Breeders’ Fund) at that event; a four day harness meet at Nelson County’s Oak Ridge Estate in mid-October; the Virginia Equine Alliance (VEA) budget; and additional monies to go towards purses for three graded stakes races (that have been run in Virginia in the past but will be run in Maryland this fall).

Both new events, at Great Meadow and Oak Ridge, had lease agreements unanimously approved based on the financial terms with each as they conform to the VEA budget.

Licensing approvals

The VRC granted a license for one day of pari-mutuel flat racing for the Great Meadow event on September 20th, which was submitted by the Gold Cup. In addition to the annual spring and fall Gold Cup race programs, this will become the Gold Cup’s third wagering card of 2015.

The VRC also approved a four day pari-mutuel harness racing season, which will return to Oak Ridge for the first time since 2001. The fall meet will be held on Oct. 10 – 11 and Oct. 17 – 18, with purses to be provided by the Virginia Harness Horsemen’s Association (VHHA).  The VEA will lease the Oak Ridge property for a total of $80,000, or $20,000 per race day. Oak Ridge representative Heather Goodwin expressed excitement over racing’s return and her desire to work with the VEA.

Budget approvals

The VEA budget was approved after much discussion.  VEA Executive Director Jeb Hannum outlined the budget in detail which included categories like race day operating expenses, venue lease payments, event insurance, administrative expenses, re-engineering of the equestrian area at Morven Park, capital improvements at Morven (adding a paddock, inner rail, fencing, etc.), contributions to thoroughbred & harness horse retirement programs and repayment of the loan (to VEA from HBPA) among other budget items.

Grades stakes races

The final topic generated the most discussion among commissioners. At the July 1 VRC meeting, approval was granted for the HBPA to dedicate $450,000 to four open graded stakes races which had been run in Virginia previously, but are scheduled to be relocated to Maryland this year so their current graded status can be maintained. (If a stakes race is not run in two consecutive years, it loses its grade.) Since the Colonial flat meet was not held in 2014, these four stakes will be in jeopardy of losing their graded status if not held in 2015. The quartet includes a pair of Grade II stakes, the Old Dominion Derby and Old Dominion Turf Cup, and a pair of Grade III’s, the Old Dominion Oaks and the All Along Stakes. When held at Colonial Downs, the first three were respectively called the Virginia Derby, Colonial Turf Cup and Virginia Oaks.

According to VAHBPA Executive Director Frank Petramalo, the Maryland Jockey Club was going to match the $450,000 approved by the VRC to create a $900,000 purse pool for the four stakes, subject to approval of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. In recent days, the Maryland horsemen have become hesitant to dedicate the $450,000 due to an overpayment of the purse account earlier this year, so a revised plan was presented at Wednesday’s VRC meeting.

The first revision results in a $50,000 purse increase for the All Along Stakes from $100,000 to $150,000. Maryland would cut three minor stakes from its fall schedule and that purse money would be redirected into the All Along purse. That stakes race would be held at Laurel on Sept. 12.

The second revision would have the VAHBPA solely fund the other three stakes in full ($800,000), and in return, Maryland would allow the VAHBPA to keep revenues from wagering on those races. Mr. Petramalo was not seeking a formal approval from the VRC on this issue, but more of a blessing to move forward, which he received. In Laurel’s proposed fall stakes schedule, the $400,000 Derby and $250,000 Turf Cup would be carded on Sept. 19th and the $150,000 Oaks would be conducted on the previously approved Virginia-bred Stakes Day on Sept. 26.

From 2005 – 2013, the VAHBPA  dedicated $13.2 million toward Derby & Turf Cup purses in order to obtain graded status and keep it. “When we hold these stakes in Virginia next year at Morven Park (in Leesburg), we want to come back with a splash,” said Petramalo. “We need to keep the current grades in order to make that happen.”

Even with the Commission’s blessing, there still is a potential snag that could hinder the move of the three stakes from Virginia to Maryland this fall and it hinges on the Virginia Derby’s registered trademark. “Colonial Downs notified the Maryland Jockey Club that by hosting the Derby at Laurel, even named as the Old Dominion Derby, it would infringe on their current trademark,” said Petramalo. That issue will be resolved sooner than later since Maryland will need to get a condition book out in the near future for their fall races.