Va. board to move on OTB plans

October 16, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

Now that the Virginia Racing Commission has selected the Stansley Management Group and its affiliate, the Maryland xTC Jockey Club, to operate the state's first pari-mutuel racetrack, // expect the board to move quickly to license Virginia's first off-track betting parlors.

Getting the OTBs open as quickly as possible means purse money can start to be generated from simulcast betting proceeds for the first live-race meets at Colonial Downs in 1996.

Commission chairman John Shenefield has set Nov. 9 as the board's next meeting to go over OTB licensing requirements. Arnold Stansley, general manager of the partnership that will operate the track, and Laurel/Pimlico chairman Joe De Francis hope to get most of the parlors operating by the 1995 Triple Crown season.

Stansley will be meeting with De Francis at Laurel this week to begin organizational plans. Colonial Downs can open as many as six parlors. The first outlets will be located in the Tidewater area in Virginia Beach and the Norfolk-Portsmouth communities as well as close to the North Carolina border.

Maryland's live thoroughbred and harness meets will be simulcast into Virginia, which will not only familiarize fans with Maryland horses and jockeys, but also cultivate betting habits.

Maryland and Northern Virginia horsemen who are upset that the track is not located in Loudoun County might have spent part of their summer campaigning for the track. Local residents, led by Ashburn community activist Janet Castrovinci, asked for and received a special referendum in August. In a hotly contested election with 40 percent turnout, the track proposed for the Leesburg area was rejected by about 1,500 votes. Few horsemen, many of the ones that are now saying it is too far to ship to Colonial Downs in Richmond, turned out to support the Loudoun track effort.

"They should have been on the street corners in Leesburg with me this summer hustling votes," De Francis said. "We bent over backward trying to get the Loudoun site."

The Maryland Jockey Club spent more than $1 million on site plans, attorney fees, architects, engineers and traffic studies to try to obtain the Loudoun license, including about $150,000 in election expenses.

Virginia commission member Arthur Arundel Jr. said at the board's meeting last week that the panel was so impressed with the Maryland Jockey Club plan, they would have voted 5-0 for the Loudoun track if it had won the election.

It has been written that observers are stunned that Stansley, who is a partner in the Trinity Meadows track in Texas and Toledo Raceway in Ohio, and the Maryland Jockey Club could beat out an industry giant like Churchill Downs for the Virginia license.

Some have pointed to what they term De Francis' "dismal" record operating Laurel/Pimlico.

But the Virginia commission, in what has been termed the most exhaustive study by any commission licensing a new track, studied in depth all the financial and operational records of the applicants in almost a yearlong procedure.

The board comprises Shenefield, a top international attorney; Arundel, a Northern Virginia publishing magnate; Robert Beck, a major Tidewater commercial real-estate developer; Robin Williams, a former newspaper reporter and lifelong horsewoman, and Ernie Oare, another lifelong horse owner.

Though Laurel/Pimlico lost $7.3 million last year, the track is now operating in the black and has carded the tracks' most successful runnings of the Preakness, De Francis Dash and Maryland Million in 1994 as well as organizing a statewide OTB and cross-breed simulcasting network.

And defeated applicant Tom Meeker, the president of Churchill Downs, acknowledged: "Things in Maryland are starting to turn around."

Breeders' Cup Impact

At least two major European runners, Ezzoud and Bigstone, skipped yesterday's Washington D.C. International to run in Breeders' Cup races at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5, according to Martin Pearce.

Pearce is the English agent who solicits European entries for the International.

Pearce said that Ezzoud, regarded as Europe's top 1 1/4 -mile horse and winner of the Group I Eclipse Stakes and York International Stakes in England, skipped the International to go in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic on the dirt.

The owners, Pearce said, were inspired by Arcangues' 99-1 upset in the Classic last year.

Bigstone, who appeared to be headed to Laurel, dropped out to run in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Mile.

The horse's owner, Daniel Wildenstein, changed his mind at the last minute. "He has won the International before [in 1983 with All Along]," Pearce said. "But he's never won a Breeders' Cup race. So he decided to try to win that instead with Bigstone."

At this time of year, Pearce added, there are a shortage of top 1 1/4 -mile horses in Europe. "All the good ones run in the Arc [Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe in Paris in early October] and are finished for the season after that or retire and go to stud," he said.

Chick Lang Jr. and "Boreen's Bog"

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