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Colonial Downs owner says track will close if VRC doesn't approve new horsemen's group

Tidewater Review

Colonial Downs owner Jeff Jacobs, in a statement released Saturday, said the racetrack will close Nov. 1 if the Virginia Racing Commission doesn't approve its contract with a new horsemen's group.

"We're at a point that after 10 months we don't think we are on the same page as the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (VHBPA)," said Colonial Downs President Ian Stewart. "They want to deal with an old model, using extended days with low purses."

The VRC is scheduled to review Colonial Downs' contract with the Old Dominion Thoroughbred Association on Oct. 15 at the Department of Agriculture in Richmond.

According to Stewart, Jacobs is giving the Virginia Racing Commission an ultimatum. If they do not approve a 10-year signed contract between the racetrack and the newly-formed Old Dominion Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the track will close on Nov. 1.

"It's just been too long and we want to more forward and bring high-quality racing to the track," Stewart said.

Old Dominion Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association is in "formation" and has a few members, Stewart said. "The membership will grow as we get more horsemen for the season."

Stewart said that if the VRC approves the contract, the Off-Track Betting (OTB) facilities will be open to thoroughbred betting and the 2015 thoroughbred season will be scheduled.

In order to host thoroughbred racing at the track, Colonial Downs must have a signed contract with a horsemen’s association. This year’s thoroughbred season was canceled after Colonial Downs and the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (VHBPA) failed to reach terms on the length of the season.

As a result of the failed contract negotiations between Colonial Downs and VHBPA, a nonprofit organization made up of 1,300 thoroughbred owners and trainers who race at Colonial Downs and award purses, four of eight Off-Track Betting facilities in the state closed. Those that remained open could not take bets on Virginia thoroughbred racing. New Kent County, where Colonial Downs is located, estimates the season’s cancellation meant a loss of more than $400,000 in revenue.

With the Old Dominion Thoroughbred Association, Colonial Downs is recommending an eight-week thoroughbred season in 2015 that extends over Labor Day weekend with three major races each with $1 million-plus purses.

“This is a great schedule that will allow every horse to run and will bring the best racing in the country to New Kent County,” Stewart said.

In a phone interview Thursday, VHBPA Executive Director Frank Petramalo Jr. called the Old Dominion Thoroughbred Association, “a sham organization just created by Colonial Downs to avoid dealing with the VHBPA."

The Virginia Racing Commission (VRC) voted Sept. 15 to rescind its original order to force Colonial Downs and VHBPA to sign an eight-week, 24-day 2015 thoroughbred racing season contract.

Colonial Downs filed an appeal to the order that the VRC overstepped its powers by requiring contract conditions.

The case still remains in court, but most likely will be dropped, Stewart said. Colonial Downs filed an order Thursday to dismiss the appeal.

According to VRC member Stran Trout, the VHBPA and Colonial Downs expressed an interest to working out a 2015 thoroughbred schedule Sept. 17, so the VRC withdrew its order for a 2015 thoroughbred season schedule.

“The Commission wants to work with everyone to get some racing going,” Trout said.

Although there is a signed contract between Colonial Downs and Old Dominion Thoroughbred Association, it is not legal until the VRC has reviewed and approved it.

Petramalo does not expect the VRC to approve the Old Dominion Thoroughbred Association contract because of a lack of information and members.

“The law says that in that type of organization, the majority of members must be owners or trainers at the track,” Petramalo said. “Right now, they don't have any.

“If the VRC does, by some slim chance, approve this contract, we will be in court the next day filing an appeal. That is unacceptable.”

Martin can be reached by phone at 804-885-0040.



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