01/04/2014 2:25PM

Beulah Park begins its final meet

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It will be the long goodbye, as Beulah Park begins its final meet in its longtime home in suburban Columbus, Ohio, on Monday. Built in 1923 as the first track in the state, Beulah will be ending its association with Grove City when it moves later this year into sparkling new digs in a $125 million racino in Austintown, a suburb of Youngstown in the northeastern sector of the state.

The new facility, scheduled to open for racing in November, is part of a sweeping movement in Ohio following legislation that approves slots at racetracks.

“There’s a lot of sentiment going around here right now,” said Ed Vomacka, the racing secretary at Beulah the last 12 years. “A lot of people are sorry to see this place go, but on the other hand, we’re all looking forward to the revenue from the new VLTs.”

Beulah is scheduled to open Monday for the final meet, which will run through Kentucky Derby Day, May 3. A number of ceremonies and tributes to honor the old facility will be held prior to closing day so as not to conflict with fans’ interest in the Derby, said Vomacka.

“There are a few things on tap during the meet and into April,” he said. “I’m one who’s actually moving to the new place, but many people are entrenched here in the Columbus area with their families and such and just can’t leave. So this final go-round is going to be a pretty emotional time for those folks, as you can understand. Beulah Park has been part of this community for a long time.”

Besides the cost of building the new facility, owner Penn National Gaming Inc. also will pay $50 million for a video lottery terminal (VLT) license and a $75 million fee for relocating the existing racing license.

In the meantime, fans of the old Beulah will watch modestly priced Thoroughbreds battle the winter elements. In fact, the eight-race Monday opener might very well be in doubt because of harsh weather, and the same goes for an eight-race Tuesday card. The forecasted high temperature for either day is a mere 5 degrees, with lows dipping below zero.

Alberto Pusac, who led the fall meet that ended Dec. 17 with 26 wins, is back to lead the Beulah jockey colony, while veteran trainer Ralph Martinez, who dominated that meet in wins (20) and starts (87), is expected to be a major force again.

Three stakes are tentatively on the schedule, although they still await a rubber-stamp approval of the Ohio State Racing Commission. All three are $50,000 races for statebreds.

Bill Downes will be back in his familiar spot in the race-caller’s booth for this final Grove City meet.