06/12/2014 3:18PM

Deal for Colonial dates coming down to the wire


The Virginia Racing Commission and state government officials are engaged in a last-ditch effort to save the race meet at Colonial Downs this summer as the window to reach an agreement between the track and horsemen rapidly closes.

The racing commission’s executive director, Bernie Hettel; the commission’s chairman, J. Sargeant Reynolds; and Virginia’s Secretary of Commerce and Trade, Maurice Jones, are scheduled to hold a conference call on Friday morning to discuss the options left to the state in the wake of a stubborn dispute between the track and Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association over a live racing agreement, Hettel said Thursday.

“It’s going to take sacrifice on both sides,” Hettel said.

Under the track’s typical race dates in previous years, Colonial would have opened last weekend. However, the dispute between the track and horsemen has prevented the track from opening, and now the racing commission is attempting to come up with a schedule that would satisfy both sides, perhaps by running only on weekends and only on the turf, Hettel said.

Colonial typically draws most of its horses from Maryland, which is on its usual summer hiatus. Laurel Park in Maryland opens on Sept. 5, while at Colonial, the track’s harness meet is scheduled to start on Sept. 17, meaning any Thoroughbred dates would likely need to be held prior to Labor Day.

Colonial and the Virginia HBPA have been without a live-racing agreement since early this year. Negotiations have bogged down on the number of race dates and Colonial’s demand that horsemen compensate the track for losses at its off-track betting locations, which have been unable to offer Thoroughbred simulcasts since February.

The track had initially pushed for a six-day race meet, with horsemen in support of a 32-day race meet. In May, the commission approved a 25-day meet at the track, even though the track did not indicate it supported those dates.

Hettel said the commission and state government have not yet given up hope that an agreement can be reached, but he said the deadline for bringing the track and horsemen together is “fast approaching.”