Virginia Racing Commission Meeting Recap From March 7th

The Virginia Racing Commission (VRC) approved several items in regards to the May 6th Virginia Gold Cup races at its regular meeting, held March 7th in downtown Richmond.

This will be the 92nd running of the Gold Cup and the fifth consecutive edition with pari-mutuel wagering. Commissioners approved a limited license application, a slate of racing officials, and the horsemen’s agreement with the Gold Cup. The agreement will have a three year term. The Virginia HBPA will contribute $500,000 a year toward purses at the Gold Cup; in past years, that figure was $400,000.

Virginia Equine Alliance (VEA) Executive Director Jeb Hannum provided an update on recent activities. Two Off Track Betting (OTB) Centers are open in Richmond and doing healthy business. The OTB at Breakers Sports Grille handled over $1.1 million in January and $878,000 in February. The second area OTB opened at Ponies & Pints on January 16th, handled over $300,000 the rest of that month and $668,000 in February. Taking both months into account, 74% of the handle was wagered on thoroughbreds and 26% on harness.

The OTB at Ponies & Pints handled over $668,000 in the month of February.

The OTB at Ponies & Pints handled over $668,000 in the month of February.

A third OTB is being planned in Chesapeake, though there is a potential zoning issue that could cause a delay in the project. A provision was added several years ago to address the influx of internet cafes in Chesapeake, and that new language may result in the need to file an application for a conditional use permit. The VEA and  restaurant owner are moving forward with the OTB design and layout.

The VEA has begun planning the second annual fall harness meet at Shenandoah Downs. The season will begin September 16th and run five consecutive weekends, until October 15th. A meeting has already taken place with Shenandoah County and Woodstock tourism and Chamber of Commerce officials. A key discussion topic for the barn area is to move temporary stalls to higher ground this fall to avoid any potential flooding issues. With a 20 year lease already in place, another key initiative is to create a long range master plan.

Mr. Hannum reported that the VEA conducted a meeting with some HBPA and VTA  representatives in Middleburg last week to discuss both short term and long term thoroughbred racing goals since Morven Park is no longer an option moving forward. Georganne Hale from the Maryland Jockey Club was in attendance as was Dr. Charles Steger from the VRC. Attendees were encouraged to look at a macro view of the industry.

Hot Rize roared to victory in the 2014 Virginia Gold Cup. The 2017 edition is May 6th. Photo courtesy Douglas Lees.

Hot Rize roared to victory in the 2014 Virginia Gold Cup. The 2017 edition is May 6th. Photo courtesy Douglas Lees.

Discussion centered around a number of topics including live racing, and the need for it to be unique, credible, and to showcase a quality product that would serve a niche. The traditional model of racing with a big grandstand isn’t practical any more given current funding available. Other topics included revenue generation, reaching new customers and options for live race venues among others.  A sub-committee was also formed to come up with ideas to expand the pool of horses eligible for awards. Virginia raised horses would be considered in addition to Virginia-breds in bonus programs.

Commissioner Van Clief suggested the all parties involved get a sense of what the industry looks like now. Is Virginia a training state, breeding state or racing state? VEA President Debbie Easter noted that trainers like Karen Dennehy have had to change their business model slightly. She is breaking as many horses as ever, but many are for out of state owners. HBPA Executive Director Frank Petramalo added the most encouraging takeaway was that the old business model is not the future of Virginia racing. There was general acceptance on a new way of doing things.

The next Virginia Racing Commission meeting is scheduled for April 26th at 10:00 AM.