by Nick Hahn

The Virginia Thoroughbred Association (VTA) is getting back on the farm this February, hosting “Cocktails and Conversations” in the three districts that comprise the breeding organization.  The laid-back socials being held on Sunday afternoons at some of the state’s breeding farms are designed to encourage exchanging opinions, suggesting ideas, and asking questions about industry issues.

“We want to talk to [members]  about what we are doing, and we want to get their input and get them involved in the process,” said Debbie Easter, executive director of the VTA.   “Some of them don’t feel that way right now.  Who knows where a good idea can come from?”

Eagle Point Farm in Ashland, Virginia hosts this weekend’s gathering.  Donna Dennehy, a VTA board member, will open up her training center for at least 40 horsemen.  The equine matriarch runs Eagle Point, established by her father, Ed Gilman, with her daughter Karen Dennehy Godsey.  Eagle Point had nearly 200 starters in the mid-Atlantic last year, 34 of them in just five weeks at Colonial Downs.

“It’s a good venue to provide information about what’s going on and get feedback,” said Easter.  “The Commission really doesn’t have that venue and atmosphere right now, even with the Blue Ribbon Committee.  It’s just a way of informally throwing out ideas.”

Nick Hahn has been covering Virginia racing since before there was a racetrack. His “Off to the Races” radio show is a must-listen, and his “Nick’s Picks” tip sheet is a shortcut to wagering profits at Colonial Downs.

After about an hour-long assemblage at the host farm, casually attired attendees can listen to a 15-minute presentation about the Virginia Thoroughbred Association and then ask questions or provide comments.

Hickory Tree hosted such an event last fall in Northern Virginia that drew about eighty people.  Old Keswick, located northeast of Charlottesville in Albemarle County, will host a similar event next Sunday.  Keswick Stable bred the last Virginia-bred Kentucky Derby starter, Semoran (’96), until Bodemeister ran second in the Run for the Roses in 2012.

“We use to do more of [the get-togethers] in the past and we haven’t done that for a while,” explained Easter.  “It’s hard to get everyone at one event so we spread it out by districts.”

Can such events help resolve some of Virginia’s immediate issues, such as the impasse on racing days, which has caused the horsemen to withdraw consent for Colonial Downs’s off-track wagering facilities to accept Thoroughbred signals?  Perhaps.

“I’m trying to stay optimistic of movement to get this resolved in the next few weeks,” says Easter.