De Francis, Wilson Va. proposals get mixed receptions

March 15, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

MANASSAS, VA — MANASSAS, Va. -- Disgruntled residents protested that they do not want a racetrack in their backyard.

A rival track operator hurled barbs at Laurel/Pimlico owner Joe De Francis, accusing him of being an out-of-state interloper.

And a surprising array of old-line Virginians, including Emily North King Hutchinson, who said her ancestors traced "all the way back to the time of Pocahontas," supported the Maryland Jockey Club's plan yesterday to build a track in Loudoun County.

All were part of the scene when the Virginia Racing Commission focused its attention on potential racetrack operations proposed by De Francis' Maryland Jockey Club and Jim Wilson's Virginia Jockey Club in the northern part of the state.

But the main emphasis was on horses.

"Where do you get the horses to fill the races?" asked Randolph D. Rouse, a prominent Virginia developer and horse owner who said that some "wonderful people" have come up with "good proposals" in a number of Virginia locations. "But only one, the Maryland Jockey Club, has all the ingredients for success" since a base of nearly 2,000 horses already competing in Maryland can be tapped into the Virginia track if a combined Maryland-Virginia circuit is created under a plan formulated by De Francis.

Glen Petty, a former executive director of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association and a De Francis consultant, said that Virginia produced about 640 foals in 1992, less than a third of the number born in Maryland, and that the number dropped to 600 in 1993 and will be projected at about 540 this spring. He added that by 1996, the target date for a Virginia track to open, there will be 18,000 fewer horses of racing age in the country than there were in 1990. He argued that "Virginia can stand alone and be vulnerable, or it can join a two-state system."

Wilson, a Virginia resident who wants to operate a track in Prince William County near Haymarket in direct competition to Laurel/Pimlico, said that Petty's numbers are correct. "But they are correct today. What we are talking about is a track that might last for 100 years. Virginians have the land, the people and the interest to breed and race horses. I predict that within the next 24 to 36 months the horses will be there. That's what I'm willing to gamble on."

Wilson said he thought the number of Virginia foals could increase in three years from 700 to 2,000 if a track is opened. However, Reynolds Cowles, president of the VTA, doubted Wilson's assessment. "That seems like a stretch to me," Cowles said.

Wilson attacked De Francis' plan, which calls for Laurel to operate in fall and winter, Pimlico in the spring and the proposed Loudoun facility during the summer.

Wilson said he thinks it's "preposterous" that people from Maryland should dictate what Virginians will do. "I'm not going to have the czar of Maryland racing tell us what we're going to do," he said.

"De Francis said he'll have 90 days [actually 102] days of racing in Virginia. But the horsemen in Maryland and the Maryland [racing] commission have never said they will agree to it," added Wilson, who wants a year-round schedule of 200 racing days. "He wants to tell the Virginia commission what days it can run."

Residents living near the proposed tracks in Leesburg and Manassas turned out to oppose both plans.

"We're going to do whatever we can to stop it," said Jim Moran of Sterling, Va., about De Francis' track. "They can't force-fit this track into our neighborhood. It is an 'us vs. them' issue."

Similar protests were voiced against Wilson's track in Haymarket.

The board visits the New Kent County site of the final two applicants, Arnold Stansley and Jeffrey Taylor, tomorrow.

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