03/27/2013 3:08PM

River Downs-at-Beulah meet in jeopardy


Ohio’s Thoroughbred horsemen and the owners of Beulah Park have been unable to reach an agreement that would enable River Downs to run its 2013 meet at Beulah, according to officials for the track and the state’s racing commission.

The lack of an agreement is jeopardizing a proposal to run 65 days at Beulah outside of Columbus beginning in mid-May to make up for lost race days at River Downs, which was torn down earlier this year. Officials for the horsemen and Beulah’s owner, Penn National Gaming Inc., stated at an Ohio Racing Commission meeting on Wednesday that negotiations on the deal have been unsuccessful.

Regardless of the lack of a deal, the racing commission passed a resolution authorizing a 65-day meet at Beulah during River’s traditional race days in case the two sides can come to a deal by the commission’s “first meeting in April,” the resolution states. Ohio statutes require tracks to file an application “at least five days” prior to a meet starting, so the passage of the resolution allows the commission to put pressure on the two sides to come to an agreement within the next month.

Chris McErlean, the vice president of racing for Penn National, said on Wednesday after the meeting that Penn was attempting to get a broad agreement from horsemen on not only the 2013 River dates at Beulah Park, but also on the amenities that would be offered to horsemen at a new track in Youngstown if the company is successful in getting approval to move Beulah to that city. That has complicated the negotiations.

Representatives of the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association did not return phone calls on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the plans to relocate Beulah – and plans to relocate two other tracks in Ohio – have also stalled. At the Wednesday meeting, the commission declined to approve the plans unless the track owners add seating to the new facilities, which will all be attached to casinos. Horsemen and commissioners have criticized the plans over the past several months, saying that the track owners are not devoting enough attention or space to the horseracing parts of the facilities.

The commission specifically said that Penn National must add 650 seats “in an enclosed, climate-controlled area” to its racetrack facility before the plans would be approved. McErlean said that adding the seats would exceed the “footprint” of the current blueprints and delay the project to build the new track and casino by four to six months.

“We’re going to go back and take a look at what can be done from a design point-of-view,” McErlean said.