Md., Ky. interests vie for Va. racetrack Churchill Downs wants to join with Richmond group

December 02, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

Will the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs racetrack be coming to Virginia?

Apparently, the race is on between Maryland and Kentucky interests to become operator of the first racetrack in the Old Dominion.

On Friday, Tom Meeker, president of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., is meeting in Richmond, Va., with a local group, the Virginia Racing Associates, to try to form a joint venture to apply for a license to build a track.

The move is a direct counterattack to the plan assembled by Laurel-Pimlico operator Joe De Francis, who wants to construct a new racing facility near Williamsburg, Va., and incorporate it into Maryland's year-round thoroughbred circuit.

De Francis and his partner, the Chesapeake Corp., are holding a news conference in Washington today to formally announce their project.

Conservative and religious groups had successfully kept racing out of Virginia for years. But, in 1988, the first pari-mutuel legislation was passed, paving the way for competition to build the first track in the state.

Jeff Gregson, lobbyist for Churchill Downs in Richmond, said yesterday that the Kentucky track first got involved in the Virginia racing scene last winter.

"I needed a credible source to describe the benefits of an Off-Track betting system to the Virginia legislature," Gregson said. "I contacted Mark Wilson, general counsel for Churchill Downs, who testified and assisted us in getting the measure passed."

Since then, Meeker and Dick Cummings, the track's executive vice president, have made several trips to Virginia and have looked at various sites.

"We [Churchill Downs] had worked with Virginia Racing Associates in the November election trying to get local OTB referenda passed," Gregson said. "After that we decided we'd sit down and talk about a joint venture. If the two of us can't get together, then each of us will go our separate ways and make plans to build our own tracks."

The VRA is principally composed of the Bill Miller family, former owners of the Rosecroft harness track in Prince George's County. Their main consultant is Tom Aronson.

Gregson described the anticipated competition for a Virginia license between Maryland and Kentucky tracks as "spirited, but friendly."

Churchill Downs and Laurel-Pimlico operators are the key interests to date vying for a license to build a Virginia track. At least two other concerns have been mentioned as possible players. They are Arthur Stansley, of Ohio, and Ladbrokes Racing Ltd., an English bookmaking firm, which also has American racing interests.

Both groups have yet to formally apply for a racetrack license with the Virginia Racing Commission.

Talks progressing

Progress apparently has been made in the effort to start simulcasting between Maryland's thoroughbred and harness tracks.

Talks had been stalled between Standardbred horsemen and the management of Colt Enterprises, Ltd., owners of Rosecroft and Delmarva Raceways, on how costs and proceeds would be shared during a 90-day experimental period.

But after discussions with Colt representatives in Annapolis on Monday, Charles Lockhart, executive director of Cloverleaf, the group representing harness horsemen, said horsemen and the tracks had reached accord on "a financial arrangement."

However, Lockhart added, only nine of the 30 Cloverleaf board members were at that meeting. He wants the full board to consider the proposal and has scheduled a meeting with them at Annie's Restaurant on Kent Island at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

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