01/02/2004 12:00AM

Dispute shuts Mountaineer

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A dispute between Mountaineer Race Track and the local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has shut down simulcasting and live racing there.

The track and horsemen have failed to reach agreement on a new three-year contract to replace the one that expired Dec. 31. The main sticking point is the number of racing days in 2004. Attorneys for both groups have agreed to meet Tuesday to resume negotiations.

Cards were drawn for Saturday and Sunday, but those two days, as well as Monday and Tuesday, were scrapped when the HBPA rejected an offer from track management to extend the old contract for 30 days. On Thursday, the West Virginia Racing Commission, citing the lack of a contract, barred Mountaineer from importing simulcast signals, and on Friday, management closed the track to training.

Tuesday was the last scheduled day of racing until Jan. 19.

The West Virginia Racing Commission requires Mountaineer to race 210 days to retain its license. In addition, the state's lottery, which controls the slots operation at Mountaineer, dictates that there must be 220 live racing programs between July 1 and the following June 30.

In its most recent proposal, the HBPA asked for 232 live dates with 10-race programs. Management reportedly has proposed to run 210 days and have nine-race programs for a portion of the year.

"We want more dates and more racing," said Gail Morrow, vice president of Mountaineer's HBPA. Morrow says there is an overabundance of horses who fit at the lowest level of Mountaineer's claiming ladder - $4,000 - and who are unable to get into a race for long stretches.

The horsemen are also upset that Rosemary Williams, the director of racing, closed the track to training at 8 a.m. Friday. Williams deferred all comment to Tamarra Pettit, Mountaineer's director of public relations.

"We do not have a contract with the horsemen, and to allow them onto the track without a contract would create a liability issue," Pettit said.

Mountaineer also needs to work out a new agreement with Local 101 of the parimutuel clerks union. The clerks have extended their old agreement until Jan. 10 and are negotiating a new five-year contract.