Work on Virginia track begins


Within a week of being awarded the license to build Virginia's first pari-mutuel racetrack, Arnold Stansley said yesterday that he has begun site preparation at the proposed $40 million facility.

"We're clearing roadways and bulldozers are taking out trees," said Stansley, partner and general manager of the project. "We've opened an office near the site and have staffed it with three people, including site manager Gil Short."

The proposed track is located on a 345-acre wooded site on Interstate 64, 21 miles southeast of Richmond. Plans call for a grandstand that seats 6,000 and stabling for 1,000 horses.

The track, named Colonial Downs, will be part of a two-state racing circuit that includes Maryland's mile thoroughbred tracks. Laurel and Pimlico will be open for live racing eight months of the year and then shut down during the summer when the live meet is at Colonial Downs, which will be managed by the Maryland Jockey Club.

At the same time, the two states will offer year-round simulcasts at a 15-outlet network of inter-track and off-track betting sites.

Construction of Colonial Downs could begin by January. It depends on a $29 million bond sale offered by the New Kent County Recreation Authority. County officials estimated last week that it would take three months for the financing to be in place.

Stansley's partner in the track, James Leadbetter, owns a construction company that will build the facility. Stansley said at a news conference last week that he could have Colonial Downs open for a harness meet by Jan. 1, 1996.

Stansley said Leadbetter built the Grade II Trinity Meadows track near Fort Worth, Texas. "He ordered the steel and started moving the dirt in December 1990, and the track was open on May 29, 1991," Stansley said.

Stansley added that he and Leadbetter, who are from Toledo, Ohio, and a group of other Ohio investors, own 40 percent of Trinity Meadows. He said that Trinity Meadows has shown a profit every year of operation and that the track's debt service will be paid off by the end of next year. Plans also call for Trinity Meadows to be upgraded in 1995 to a Grade I facility.

"But the Virginia track is a much more upscale operation," Stansley said. "We've put about $20 million into the Texas facility, about half of what this project calls for."

Trinity Meadows has one six-furlong dirt strip. Colonial Downs will have three courses, including an inner seven-furlong grass strip, a one-mile dirt oval and an outer 1 1/4 -mile grass course. The turf courses aren't expected to be ready until 1997.

Stansley and Leadbetter met with Laurel/Pimlico operator Joe De Francis at Laurel Park yesterday and discussed location of six Virginia OTB parlors, the maximum allowed by state law.

The OTB parlors will be located in Richmond, Hampton, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach and Portsmouth.

Stansley said a committee consisting of two people from the Stans- ley Management Group and two from the Maryland Jockey Club will explore specific sites.

The Virginia commission will meet Nov. 9 to discuss licensing procedures of the OTB outlets.

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