Virginia breeders like joint circuit idea Thoughts vary on particulars

November 23, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

Depending on who you talk to, opinions vary among Old Dominion horsemen concerning Joe De Francis' concept to unite Maryland and Virginia into one racing circuit.

His plan seems to have the support of one large segment of Virginians, the Virginia Thoroughbred Association, which represents 390 breeders.

Dr. Reynolds Cowles, the VTA president, said yesterday that his group "favors a regional plan. I think De Francis' idea makes the most sense of any I've heard, given the current horse supply and economic status of the industry."

De Francis wants to build a track in partnership with the Chesapeake Corp. in the Williamsburg area. Laurel would operate in the fall and winter, Pimlico in the spring and "Colonial Downs," the working name of the resort-like Virginia track, would run in the summer. The tracks would be linked by a bistate network of off-track betting parlors that eventually would include Washington.

"Maryland track-goers need a break and a Virginia summer meeting would provide it," Cowles said. "Our pari-mutuel committee has been in touch with Maryland track management and we've discussed the idea. Most of us are already racing horses in Maryland anyway, and the ties are already there."

Cowles added that there has been no formal resolution "put on the table" that endorses De Francis' plan. "But we want regional accord and a unified circuit between Maryland, Kentucky and Virginia.

"Churchill Downs has been a primary player already in what has been going on in Virginia. They exercised a lot of input earlier this year in getting an OTB bill passed and there are ongoing discussions about them building a track here."

De Francis said yesterday he does not want to get involved with Churchill Downs in a joint venture in Virginia.

"I don't know how Kentucky fits in," he said. "There is already a year-round racing circuit in that state [involving Turfway Park, Ellis Park, Keeneland and Churchill Downs]."

Dr. Joseph Rogers, who so far has run Virginia's only pari-mutuel meet at the one-day Morven Park Steeplechase races in Leesburg, said, "I'd love to see [flat] racing in Virginia, but I think we'd all be disappointed with just a 90-day race meet. I think Virginia can justify its own racing circuit and I wouldn't want to see Maryland sop up all of our OTB outlets."

Rogers added that there are other sites (other than the Williamsburg area location) that would serve Virginians a lot better. "Besides, it gets too hot down there [in the summer]," he said.

Cowles said that a twilight or evening meet at a Williamsburg area track would be preferable. "And I think you'd want that anyway," he said. "That would probably better suit the vast number of shipyard and Naval employees -- about 1.2 million of them -- in the greater Peninsula area, plus the tourist industry."

Cowles said that naturally Virginians would like to see their own year-round circuit, "but I don't think a [major thoroughbred] track here could stand on its own. If De Francis' track only runs a 90-day thoroughbred meet, he might want it to be a dual-purpose facility like The Meadowlands and also run a harness meet, too."

C. Fred Kohler, a VTA board member and a leader in getting racing referendums passed in the state, said, "Our board meets Wednesday, and I'm sure there will be a lot of discussion about De Francis' plan. It sounds like it has good possibilities. Whether that site is the best, I don't know. But at least after four years [Virginia passed a pari-mutuel bill in 1988], something's happening."

Rogers said he thinks that once De Francis makes his proposal before the Virginia Racing Commission to build a track "then you're going to see a lot of others sign up and make their applications, too."

In addition to De Francis and Churchill Downs, other applicants could include Ladbrokes and a group called Virginia Racing Associates, which consists of Bill Miller (the family that owned Rosecroft Raceway) and Virginia developer Bill Camp.

* NOTES: Avian Assembly, the eye-catching daughter of General Assembly, came from off the pace and won the $50,000 Anne Arundel Handicap yesterday at Laurel Race Course by nine lengths. The 3-year-old filly is owned by Paula Parsons of Middleburg, Va., and is trained by Jimmy Murphy. "She [Avian Assembly] is a handful," Murphy said. "I had to paddock her last week and then worked her a mile in 37 [1 minute, 37 seconds], just to keep her settled. She's erratic. I can't ship her much or she falls apart.". . .

Maryland-bred Brilliant Brass ran one of the best races of her career and won the $250,000 Ladies Handicap at Aqueduct. It was her eighth 1992 stakes win. . . Miss Josh, the multiple stakes-winning grass mare developed on the local circuit by trainer Barclay Tagg, sold for $425,000 last week to Claiborne Farm of Paris, Ky., at the Keeneland sales. The sellers were the Bonner Farm of Bonner and Tom Young and George Rowan, of Manassas, Va. "Various agents had appraised her anywhere from $150,000 to $350,000," Tagg said, "so they [the Bonner group] were delighted with the price and especially who purchased her."

Walter Cullum, teen-age nephew of jockey Ronnie Franklin, won his first career race on Saturday at Philadelphia Park aboard Treegees. Cullum has worked for Bowie-based trainer Eddie Gaudet for three years. "He looks super on a horse," Gaudet said yesterday.

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