The six applicants vying for a license to build a racetrack in Virginia start pleading their cases tomorrow in the final hearings conducted by the five-member Virginia Racing Commission.
After years of waiting, one applicant is expected to be awarded the license by Sept. 20 to build and operate the state's first pari-mutuel racetrack.
The decision directly affects Maryland since the two states now share a common horse pool and a new racing operation there will compete with the Maryland tracks, offering the threat of ruinous competition.
Over the next three days, each applicant will have four hours to present and defend his proposed site, racing program and business plan.
The Virginia commissioners held three days of site visits and public hearings at each location in early March. Since then they ++ have been studying documents related to each proposal.
One commissioner, Robin Traywick Williams, said a commercial-sized pushcart was needed just to transport the boxes of files on the six applicants to her car.
"We thought we'd just get the normal amount of people who attend our racing commission meetings plus a few more at these hearings," said Donald R. Price, the board's executive secretary. But Price said that many supporters or protesters plan to attend.
"After this process has been dry for so long, we are now getting to the exciting part," Price said. His office opened Jan. 1, 1989, a year after pari-mutuel legislation was passed in the state. But no potential operators came forward until two years ago when the Virginia General Assembly revised legislation and allowed an operator unlimited simulcasting rights if he built up over a five-year period a live racing schedule of 150 days.
Price said that all six of the applicants have either met or surpassed that requirement.
"I think there is so much interest now because we have a number of good applicants who are respected people in the industry," Price said.
The hearings will be conducted in two four-hour segments each day:
RTC * Tomorrow. The Virginia Racing Associates, which wants to build a track in Portsmouth, goes first, followed by Jeffrey Taylor from Covington, who is planning a track in New Kent County about halfway between Richmond and Williamsburg.
* Tuesday. Churchill Downs, which wants to build a track in Virginia Beach, is followed by the Maryland Jockey Club's Joe De Francis, who is planning a Maryland-Virginia circuit and wants to build his track in northern Virginia near Leesburg.
De Francis' plan has received support from Deloitte and Touche, an accounting firm that was hired by the commission to analyze each applicant's proposal. The consultant's report, made public last Wednesday, said De Francis' track would have the highest total revenue of any of the six proposals at $52 million annually, according to an Associated Press report.
However, residents in the area of De Francis' proposed location in Loudoun County are opposed to the track and are seeking a special referendum on Aug. 2 to try to bar pari-mutuel wagering in the jurisdiction. The state Supreme Court could release an expedited ruling on the issue this week.
* Wednesday. James Wilson, a proponent of a year-round Virginia circuit to compete head-on with Maryland, testifies first, followed by Arnold Stansley, who would adopt a similar Maryland-Virginia circuit in conjunction with De Francis at a New Kent site.
Each applicant is allotted an hour to present his plan. The commission then questions the applicant for 1 hour, 40 minutes. Other applicants are given 40 minutes to question each competitor. Then 20 minutes is allotted for public testimony followed by a 20-minute summation by each applicant. The commission has scheduled eight hours -- 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.-- each day for the hearings.
The commission then will have until June 23 to receive additional information. From that date, the board has 90 days, or until Sept. 20, to grant the license.
Scaled-down Belmont Horsefair
The weeklong Horsefair that once accompanied the Belmont Stakes has been scaled down to a weekend of equine festivities when the third leg of the Triple Crown is presented on Saturday.
The Budweiser Clydesdales, trick riding and performances by members of the U.S. Equestrian Team in carriage driving, dressage and show jumping will be presented on the main track before the Belmont Stakes.
In addition there will be a gift-and-trade show at the track as well as an International Food Festival.
Four horses -- Strodes Creek, Brocco, Signal Tap and Amathos -- are expected to take on Kentucky Derby winner Go For Gin and Preakness victor Tabasco Cat in the Belmont Stakes.
Last week for Pimlico
Pimlico shuts its doors for live racing a week from today and won't reopen for a live card until July 26.
Live racing switches to Laurel Race Course next week, where the Bold Queen Stakes, for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the grass, is scheduled for opening day on June 14.
Centerpiece of the 31-day Laurel meet is the fifth running of the Grade II, $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash on July 16.
Last year's De Francis winner, Montbrook, is back in training and worked three furlongs at Laurel on Thursday in 36 seconds.
Another generation of Fishers
A third generation of the Janon Fisher family is working at Pimlico/Laurel.
Janon Fisher IV, whose father trains horses at the Maryland tracks and whose grandfather was track treasurer as well as a trainer, is working as an intern this summer in the Pimlico/Laurel public relations department.
Fisher, a graduate of Boys' Latin, is a sophomore at Catonsville Community College and will be editor-in-chief this fall of the school newspaper, the Red and Black.
His sister, Gabriele, works in the tracks' simulcasting department. Their father won three Maryland Hunt Cups.