UPDATE: The Virginia Racing Commission (VRC) has canceled its meeting Thursday with Colonial Downs and the Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (VHBPA) to give the two sides more time to negotiate, according to Frank Petramalo, Jr., executive director of the horsemen's association.
"It is a disappointment that an agreement has not been reached. But, the track and the horse owners are talking, and we are in contact with both sides on an almost daily basis," said VRC member Stran Trout.
"Horse breeding and racing are important to Virginia and to New Kent County, and all of us are looking for a positive outcome."
On Monday, VRC scheduled a special meeting for Thursday, May 22 at 10 a.m. Instead, Colonial Downs and the VHBPA will meet privately at 11 a.m., Petramalo explained in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon.
Although Petramalo said he's "not optimistic" that the two sides will reach an agreement Thursday, Trout remains positive that a 2014 thoroughbred season could still happen in New Kent.
"...The result should be a delayed but good meet in 2014 and even better meets in future years," Trout said.
The VRC has not rescheduled the meeting originally set for Thursday, but Petramalo expects it will be held early next week.
Phone calls Wednesday to Colonial Downs have not yet been returned.
The Tidewater Review will be updating this article as soon as information becomes available.
Virginia Racing Commission extended contract deadline on Monday
NEW KENT – Colonial Downs and the Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (VHBPA) have until Thursday to sign a contract setting the 2014 thoroughbred racing season.
“It sounds like you all obviously need more time,” said Virginia Racing Commission (VRC) Chairman J. Sargeant Reynolds, Jr. Monday afternoon.
The VRC met Monday morning, where the VHBPA and Colonial Downs announced they had not yet come to an agreement on the commission’s request for a five-week, 25-day thoroughbred season this summer.
Frank Petramalo, Jr., executive director of the horsemen's association, said that the two parties were in the process of discussing spreading out the 25 days between two months and only racing on weekends.
However, Petramalo said last week that the racetrack wanted a $1.5 million reimbursement from the association for lost revenue since the off-track betting sites closed, and the horsemen's association has lost an estimated $800,000 since the shutdown.
The off-track betting facilities were shut down after arguments over the length of the thoroughbred season led to the contract’s expiration in January.
The VRC recessed Monday morning so that the two parties could discuss the contract further. They reconvened at 1 p.m. and announced yet again a contract had not been signed.
Despite the disagreement, Reynolds suggested that the VRC hold a special meeting on Thursday, May 22 at 10 a.m. to “give the two sides time to work things out.”
“Quite frankly, I expected you all to have an agreement this morning. I knew you all were close [but] obviously I understand there are some complicated issues left.”
Reynolds’ decision was met with audible frustration from those in attendance, including horsemen and breeders.
When asked by audience members if the VRC has any power to pose a penalty on Colonial Downs for not signing a contract, Reynolds responded that he doesn’t fault one side and that both are accountable for the situation. Because of this, the commission is not prepared to take away Colonial Downs’ license, Reynolds said.
New Kent Supervisor Ron Stiers said the commission also should take responsibility for the situation.
“I fault the commission,” he said. “Last meeting they stated that they expected a contract today and now they’re backing down. It’s like they’re drawing a line in the sand and when it gets crossed, they draw another line.”
VRC member Clinton Miller also voiced his concern about the probability of the two sides coming to an agreement.
“If you’re at a point in the process where you can’t possibly reconcile these differences, it’s a waste of time to come back here and worry about the process any further,” he said.
Colonial Downs argued that it was one step closer to an agreement with the horsemen’s association.
“We had a very productive discussion [this morning]. We were able to clarify a number of issues, though there are still a few things that have economic consequences in the agreement,” said Colonial Downs legal representative Jim Weinberg.
“We’re closer than we were this morning, but to be clear, there are a number of complicated issues that we still need to work through.”
Petramalo disagreed with Weinberg’s perspective on the situation.
“I don’t think we are closer than where I thought we were,” said Petramalo, who added that it was “unclear” whether the extra time will make a difference in the contract negotiations.
Despite this, Reynolds set the special meeting on Thursday and expressed his concern about the situation.
“I do think if we don’t get anything done by Thursday or soon thereafter, with a drop-dead date or not, racing for 2014 is looking pretty bleak,” Reynolds said. “And if we don’t have 2014 racing, the future of Virginia horseracing is pretty bleak, and we don’t want to see that happen.”
Reynolds added that he couldn’t set a concrete contract deadline.
“We’ve been very, very patient so far, and if we’re truly getting very close, I don’t want to jeopardize that. But at some point there has to be a drop-dead date,” Reynolds said.
“The commission’s goal is to have racing in 2014.”
New Kent County is estimating a $402,200 loss in revenue if they’re not able to salvage the 2014 thoroughbred season.
Despite the fact that Colonial Downs is in negotiations with VHBPA, the horsetrack announced last week that it’s offering a new horsemen’s group a $2 million interest-free loan, which will facilitate 25 days of thoroughbred races with one day devoted to the Virginia Derby and other nationally graded stakes races. Since the track announced the offer, Colonial Downs President Ian Stewart said Tuesday they have heard from at least one horsemen’s group but could not disclose the exact number of interested parties.
In the event that the $2 million loan is the only intended funding source and that the purses for the Virginia Derby and other stakes races will remain at least at last year's level, if the proposal were accepted by the VRC it would be a different season than Colonial Downs has hosted before. After paying $1.1 million for the big race purses, only a fraction, $37,500 of the established $200,000 baseline would be available for the other 24 race days in 2014.
Colonial Down’s new proposal is for horses to ship in and out on race day as no stabling or training would be offered.
Cindy Laraway contributed to this story.
Martin can be reached by phone at 804-885-0040.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun