Virginia Racing Commission Sept. 9 Meeting Recap

The Virginia Racing Commission (VRC) met on Wednesday September 9th and took action on several fronts that completed the approval process for all planned fall events sponsored by the Virginia Equine Alliance.

First on the agenda was a limited license application for the October fall harness race meet at the Oak Ridge Estate in Arrington, Virginia. The VEA made two site visits to the property with VRC staff, and based on Executive Secretary Bernie Hettel’s blessing, the application passed unanimously.

During the approval process of minutes from the July 29th VRC meeting, Commissioner Van Clief asked for a status update on four stakes that the VEA hoped would be held this fall during the Laurel fall meet (in order to maintain the graded status of all). The four include a pair of Grade II’s — the Commonwealth Derby & Turf Cup, and a pair of Grade III’s — the Commonwealth Oaks and The All Along. HBPA Executive Director Frank Petramala confirmed that the first pair will be contested as planned on Saturday September 19th, and the Oaks will be held in conjunction with Virginia-bred Stakes Day at Laurel the following Saturday, September 26th. The All Along will not be held this year.

Other agenda items passed unanimously — approval of the HBPA and Virginia Gold Cup contract, the VEA contract with the Virginia Harness Horsemen’s Association (VHHA), and approval of officials at the Virginia Downs event at Great Meadow (September 20th), the Oak Ridge harness meet (on Oct. 10/11 & 17/18) and the International Gold Cup (Oct. 24).

The final action item, which also passed unanimously, was approval of the standardbred expenditures from the 2015 Virginia Breeders Fund. A total of $80,000 (down from $220,000 in 2014) is available to apply toward the eight Virginia-bred stakes that make up “$320,000 Champions” Day at Oak Ridge on Oct. 18.

The public comment period and commissioner’s comments generated more discussion though than any other part of Wednesday’s meeting. Colonial Downs President Stan Guidroz mentioned that recent lease negotiations with the VEA were not successful and the property in New Kent can only sit idle for so long before alternative use measures are discussed. He asked the VRC to initiate a subcommittee where different, if not final options could be explored. He noted that if the Racing Commission wants s track in New Kent, it then needs to help Colonial Downs stabilize operations and cash flow as it works to rebuild the business. Mr. Guidroz said that if Colonial Downs puts up $1 million, he would request the VRC to redirect funds for live racing expenses and purses.

Part of a revised reopening plan would would feature an open backstretch for 8 weeks and 4 high days of higher end racing (though not exclusively high end) to include the Derby and Turf Cup (one weekend in August & another in September). This option had not been discussed prior to Wednesday’s VRC meeting. The Old Dominion Horsemen’s group would be the majority horsemen’s group which in turn could get the satellite wagering facilities up and running. Frank Petramala commented afterwards that it could be illegal if the VRC worked on a contract between Colonial Downs and the Old Dominion group. Commissioner Van Clief, in his closing comments, asked both parties (VEA & Colonial) to keep the door open for potential future negotiations.

Commissioner Miller, in his closing comments, revealed figures from a “2016 Projected Figures” report he asked VRC staff to compile prior to the meeting. Three different scenarios were addressed:

*Continuation in current mode, with ADW revenues coming in from current licensees (TVG, XpessBet, Twin Spires)
*Colonial Downs added to the mix (as a licensee) with EZ Horseplay & two EZ Horseplay Wagering Centers
*Colonial Downs added to the mix (as a licensee) in a larger role with EZ Horseplay, two Satellite Wagering facilities (SWF), and a limited live meet in New Kent.

In Commission Miller’s opinion, the third option seemed most beneficial to all parties that would benefit including the VRC, New Kent County, localities that hosted SWF’s, Virginia Tech, Virginia Horse Center, Virginia Horse Industry Board, VTA, Virginia Breeders’ Fund, purses, VEA, Colonial Downs and ADW providers. he added that more “give” was needed from all concerned moving forward.

Commission Reynolds, in his closing comments, suggested scheduling a work session to review all three scenarios in the VRC staff report. VEA President Jeb Hannum noted the following year’s projected figures may be moot at this point since Twin Spires has not made payments to the VEA for two straight months. Mr. Hannum asked for the VRC to step in and help resolve the matter.

The next VRC meeting is scheduled for Wednesday October 14th, with a location and time to be announced soon.