10/28/2009 12:00AM

Mountaineer schedule request deferred


The West Virginia Racing Commission on Monday deferred a request by Mountaineer Park to drop live racing from its year-round schedule during four winter months, according to commission staff and horsemen's representatives.

Mountaineer submitted the request at the racing commission's Monday meeting. The request asked for 210 live race dates next year, the same number as in 2009, but included no live race cards in November, December, January, or February.

Mountaineer, which subsidizes its purses and racing operations through slot-machine revenue, typically races year-round.

Maria Catignani, the executive director of the Mountaineer Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said that Mountaineer had not informed her organization that it planned to drop year-round racing before making the request on Monday.

"We were blindsided by this request," Catignani said. "They never told us they were considering this."

Mountaineer officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Catignani said that Mountaineer officials explained that they were looking to cut costs because of a decline in business associated with the recession. Mountaineer officials have not told horsemen whether the track's stable area would be closed during the four-month dark period, according to Catignani.

A three-year contract between Mountaineer and its horsemen on purse levels, backstretch operations, and other issues affecting horsemen expires at the end of this year, Catignani said.

Linda Rutledge, the executive director of the racing commission, said that a decision on approving the dates has been scheduled for the commission's next meeting on Dec. 7. Commissioners requested additional information from Mountaineer, according to officials, and reportedly want to study the potential impact of the plan on the local economy and the track's operations.

West Virginia's other Thoroughbred racetrack, Charles Town Races, was approved for year-round racing at the Monday meeting.

On Tuesday, Turfway Park in northern Kentucky received approval from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to pare its January and February racing schedule from five days a week to three. Horsemen in Kentucky frequently ship to West Virginia in the winter as an alternative to Turfway.