Churchill Downs officials said yesterday that they are planning to build a $56 million racetrack in Virginia Beach, Va., and hope to have the facility operating by 1996.
Initially, the track will offer 40 days of thoroughbred and 60 days ,, of harness racing, principally during the summer months.
But a few important contingencies are involved.
First, Churchill Downs president Tom Meeker said a referendum would have to be passed in a Nov. 2 election that would allow OTB parlors to be built in the northern part of the state.
Secondly, the Kentucky operators must beat out five other potential applicants, including the Maryland Jockey Club that operates Laurel/Pimlico, to build the first pari-mutuel track in the Old Dominion. The deadline for submitting bids to the Virginia Racing Commission is Oct. 1.
Meeker said financing for the proposed track is coming from several sources -- $20 million will be raised by private investors, including a Virginia-based harness group called the Virginia Racing Associates, and $5 million will come from Churchill Downs; $20 million will be borrowed from a commercial lender; and $17.8 million will be raised by selling revenue bonds guaranteed by the city of Virginia Beach.
The 245-acre site is now farmland and is situated about six minutes from downtown Virginia Beach, Meeker said.
Laurel/Pimlico operator Joe De Francis said the Churchill Downs proposal "doesn't affect our plans. The 40 days of thoroughbred racing they are planning to offer doesn't amount to a hill of beans. For one thing, I don't know where they will get the horses to run at such a short meet. Only 40 days of racing is not going to stimulate Virginia's breeding industry. And thirdly, our plans are not contingent upon OTBs being built in northern Virginia."
On another front De Francis said, "It's full steam ahead, nothing is being halted" in the construction of a track being built by the Lone Star Jockey Club in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
A judge ruled Tuesday that the Texas Racing Commission violated state procedures last fall when it granted Lone Star a license to build the track.
But De Francis said: "It's a purely technical matter. It's being remanded to the racing commission. I've been told the judge's decision will probably be overruled on appeal."