12/31/2009 1:00AM

Mountaineer, horsemen agree to pact


Mountaineer Park and its horsemen have reached a three-year agreement that will allow trainers to remain at the track during a two-month dark period this winter and put in place a per-start fee to fund backstretch operations, according to the track.

The agreement settles several outstanding issues separating the track and horsemen as they negotiated a new contract to replace one that expired Jan. 1. Mountaineer was considering closing its backstretch in January and February unless horsemen agreed to a funding mechanism to cover expenses related to keeping the track open for training.

Earlier this year, Mountaineer applied for 210 racing dates, the minimum allowed under statute. The dates request was ultimately approved after Mountaineer also agreed to conduct live racing in November and December, despite its initial reluctance to run in those months.

Rose Mary Williams, the track's director of racing, said the three-year agreement contemplates a similar racing schedule over the next three years, with the track running from March through December.

"That's the schedule that makes the most sense," Williams said.

The agreement also calls for the track to remain open for training for four days a week, with the operations funded by a per-start fee that will cost horsemen $15 to enter a horse in any race with a purse below $19,000, and $25 to enter in a race with a purse greater than that amount, Williams said.

Horsemen's representatives did not return phone calls Thursday, a dark day at the track. In a statement, Rembrandt Wright, the president of the Mountaineer Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said, "The HBPA looks forward to working together with Mountaineer to promote racing in the future."

Mountaineer Park derives the vast majority of its revenues from its casino gaming operation. The casino generates millions of dollars in subsidies for racing purses and funds the racetrack's operations.