Loudoun track issue heats up

July 03, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

The Maryland Jockey Club plans to mount a full-scale campaign to try to win a voters referendum on Aug. 2 that could either bar or embrace pari-mutuel gambling in Loudoun County, Va.

The Loudoun location encompasses the site of a proposed track near Dulles Airport that operators of Laurel/Pimlico racecourses

want to build and incorporate into a Maryland-Virginia racing circuit. But they have met opposition from residents in nearby communities who are trying to block the move.

Now, Laurel/Pimlico operator Joe De Francis hopes he can swing enough support from horsemen and business leaders in the county to counter the opposition.

Residents in the Ashburn Farm and Ashburn Village communities voiced their displeasure during county zoning hearings last spring and when the commission visited the site in March and held final hearings in Richmond last month. The residents say they fear a track would cause traffic problems, increase crime and bring a decline in property values. They petitioned and were permitted by the Loudoun County circuit court to hold the Aug. 2 referendum, even though Loudoun County voters passed a pari-mutuel gambling provision in 1990 and the proposed track has the support of the County's Board of Supervisors.

"What happened is that a small group of vocal opponents seized the agenda while we have been busy battling Churchill Downs, the Virginia Racing Associates and Jim Wilson's Virginia Jockey Club, our competitors for the license," De Francis said.

"They have created the perception that the whole county is against the track, and that's just not true. We've got tremendous support from the horse and business communities in Loudoun County. The western part of the county is particularly dependent on the horse industry. Now we've got to get those people organized and rolling and mount a major, major effort, starting this week, to win public support. That means phone banks, door-to-door contact, putting our case before the people in as many ways as possible.

"We are going to handle it like a political campaign and hire an adviser to help us disseminate information. I think when county residents realize the economic development benefits -- the jobs, a commuter system that will be paid for by the track and infrastructure improvements -- they will see what building the track means to the county."

De Francis did not say how much the public relations campaign is expected to cost. It has been estimated that the Maryland Jockey Club will have spent about $1 million by the time the Virginia licensing process is completed. The company is one of six applicants vying for the license to build the state's first pari-mutuel racetrack. The commission is expected to award one license by the end of September.

One thing is sure: the Maryland Jockey Club is going to have a battle on its hands. The Ashburn residents have shown they are well-organized and are not intimidated by business or county officials.

De Francis Dash possibilities

Trainer Mark Hennig told Laurel Race Course officials last week that he is seriously considering running Demaloot Demashoot in the Frank De Francis Memorial Dash and is trying to line up a jockey to ride his top sprinter in the July 16 stakes.

The 4-year-old colt, who finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita Park last fall, was recently second in the Aristides Breeders' Cup Handicap at Churchill Downs. The horse is stabled at the Kentucky track, but is expected to move to New York with the rest of Hennig's East Coast string this week.

Demaloot Demashoot is owned by the Team Valor racing partnership, which includes Marylander Bill Berkshire, who operates Crofton Country Club.

One of the more intriguing De Francis Dash possibilities is last year's winner, Montbrook, who has not raced since winning the race.

Gene Leach, assistant to the horse's trainer, Dean Gaudet, said last week that it's possible Montbrook will be ready to defend his title even if it means running in the race off of works alone.

The horse has been burning up the Laurel strip, turning in some California-type training moves, such as working three furlongs in 32 3/5 seconds and five furlongs in 57 1/5 seconds. Then yesterday, he breezed six furlongs in 1:12 4/5 from the gate.

Leach said it is still undecided who will ride the Israel Cohen-owned colt in the Dash, although jockey Clarence "JoJo" Ladner rode him yesterday in his Laurel workout. Ladner won the Dash last year with Montbrook.

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