Charles Town: Stakes slate approved – at last – by WV Racing Commission
by Frank Vespe
In a startling turn of events, the West Virginia Racing Commission on February 5 voted unanimously to approve the stakes schedule for Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races — including fully funding the Grade 2, $1.2 million Charles Town Classic.
The vote came less than two weeks after two of the three commissioners had voted against Charles Town’s stakes schedule, taking particular aim at the Classic, which they suggested had too large a purse relative to the rest of the track’s racing calendar.
Today, in a meeting that took less than 20 minutes, the Commission first voted to rescind its January 23 decision and then to approve the Charles Town schedule.
“We’re quite pleased,” said Erich Zimny, Charles Town’s vice-president of racing operations. Zimny said that his company had “urged (Commissioners) to reconsider their decision” but would not speculate on why exactly they had. The Commission had also come under fire from Gov. Jim Justice (R), who appointed two of the three commissioners.
By contract, Charles Town is permitted to use eight percent of the purse account to fund stakes races, and it has wide latitude to determine the purse amounts and configuration of those stakes. Given that — and although the local horsemen’s group, the Charles Town Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, had not expressed opposition to the Classic — it had come as a surprise to see the Commission come out against it.
Chairman Jack Rossi also announced that, in the month or two following the April 21 Classic, he would appoint a “focus group” with a mandate to analyze and recommend how “the resources allocated (can) best be utilized to benefit the racing industry.”
Commissioner Ken Lowe, a native of nearby Shepherdstown, led the opposition to the stakes schedule. In a December meeting, at which the Commission tabled consideration of the stakes schedule, he told the Commission that he thought “the money could be better spent… I don’t see the benefit to the community.”
But Charles Town racing secretary Charlie McIntosh countered at that meeting that the Classic was “the cornerstone of our racing program here.” Charles Town officials pointed to improving business results in recent years and said that the Classic was the key to that growth. What’s more, they said, for a variety of reasons, the purse needs to be as high as it is to attract the kinds of horses that have given the Classic a national profile.
All three Commissioners — including Lowe — today voted to approve the stakes schedule.
Lowe, who said that 2,000 people in Jefferson County, which is where Charles Town is located, are employed in Thoroughbred racing and breeding, said he was voting in support of the schedule because he was “believing that additional moneys will be put in the purse fund… (and) that the (focus group) review will take place.”
Jack Rossi, the chairman of the Commission, would not specify what led the Commission to change course. He had not voted against the stakes schedule previously.
“We’re looking to the future,” he said. “We’re not looking to the past.”
That sounded good to Charles Town’s Zimny.
“We’re happy it got resolved and ready to get to the most important thing, which is putting on the best show possible,” he said.