In a letter released today, the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (VHBPA) fired back at recent efforts by racetrack operator Colonial Downs to organize a new horsemen’s group. The letter was sent to the organization’s 1,300 members.
“When Colonial’s people come around asking you to join their organization,” the letter urges, “tell them politely ‘no thanks.'”
The dispute between the track and the horsemen began some months ago over how many days, and weeks, the 2014 Thoroughbred meeting would include. It’s grown now to involve the survival of the horsemen’s organization and the viability of racing in the Commonwealth.
In a letter and release earlier this week, Colonial Downs had said that it saw “nothing to be gained from further discussion with VHPBA” and that it would seek instead to work with horsemen “who want to work with us.” The company reportedly is working o attempt to organize a horsemen’s group to rival the VHBPA. That organization would presumably be more inclined to give Colonial what it wants — including access to Thoroughbred signals, now withheld by the VHBPA, at its off-track wagering facilities.
The VHBPA letter, which is unsigned but at the bottom lists the members of the organization’s board of directors, as well as executive director Frank Petramalo, indicates that discussions between itself and Colonial Downs over the shape of the 2014 meet “are ongoing” but also demonstrates how wide the gap between the parties is.
Colonial has pushed proposals which center on a six-day “festival” meet featuring the Virginia Derby and other stakes. Their proposals also include additional days scattered through the year. The change, the track says, is just what Virginia racing needs: “a bold paradigm change to high quality Thoroughbred racing in Virginia.”
The VHBPA has a succinct respose.
“That’s nonsense,” the organization’s letter says. “Colonial’s real motive is money.”
And it can make more of that, the letter notes, by running fewer live days.
For its part, the VHBPA letter says that the organization was willing to accept a Racing Commission-proposed compromise of 21 days of live racing over seven weeks, but Colonial declined.
“Track management wants its own horsemen’s organization, not an independent VHBPA,” the letter warns, “so it can negotiate a sweetheart deal to reduce, if not eliminate, live racing in Virginia.”
Dear Colonial Downs and Horsemen: Please don’t forget. Most of us used to go to Charlestown and elsewhere before you even existed here in Virginia. We are all making the trek back to those tracks right now. Colonial closed the OTBs, the Horsemen shut-down the thoroughbred signals, and now it is time for horseplayers to say NO to EZ Horseplay.
The signals should be shut off. Jacobs Entertainment has no interest in live racing in Virginia, other than as an excuse to get online wagering and OTBs. Cutting off the signal is the only leverage the horsemen have against Jacobs.
It is less likely that Jacobs gets a majority of the VAHBPA to join their new track-controlled horsemens’ association than would be Barack Obama announcing he is becoming a Republican.
Last year was an “experiment” urged by Jacobs to reduce the racing schedule and increase purses in order to “upgrade” the racing product. The results were dramatic: Handle and attendance were down 25% over 2012.
Now Jacobs wants to “experiment” with almost no racing at all. The predictable result of this will be to crush handle and attendance even further.
The problem here is not the product that existed before: horseplayers loved the full fields, even if the races were of mostly of the 5k-20k claiming type. The problem is a management without real horse experience who can’t grow the handle in order to foster growth. Like accountants wearing green eye shades, Jacobs execs only know how to “cut cut cut.”