Va. racing: questions with few answers


November 24, 1996|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Joe De Francis is committed to Virginia racing with a contract to manage the under-construction Colonial Downs whenever thoroughbred racing is launched in New Kent County.

But Maryland horsemen are generally taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the proposed shift to the neighboring state next summer.

Their reservations have centered on these issues:

Will stalling facilities remain open in Maryland? De Francis says yes.

Will there be punitive measures against trainers who don't race in Virginia? De Francis says no.

Can the Virginia meeting be held later, say in September, when the weather starts to moderate and Maryland racing is slow? De Francis doesn't know.

Is it going to be necessary to purchase a second place to live for the 1 1/2 months Virginia is open? No one knows yet.

"From the onset, I thought Joe was making the right move, to have an ally instead of each state going after each other," said trainer Billy Boniface. "I thought that if they were getting racing, it would be better to be amicable with them."

But Boniface, like other trainers, suggested that shipping will be difficult because of the traffic problems around Washington during morning rush hour and because the weather is steamy at that time of year.

"I think you get stale racing in one place day in and day out. Maybe this new setting will create a little more enthusiasm for racing," he said.

A free shuttle service for Maryland horses running in Virginia is under discussion by track officials. That would help alleviate individual shipping problems.

Grover "Buddy" Delp agrees that September would be a better time.

"You have vacations, and horsemen want to be with their families in the summer," he said. "You might have to have two residences. Then you have the problem of employees, particularly exercise riders, a lot of whom have two jobs at home."

Delp foresees Virginia aiding Maryland's purse structure in the long run because of simulcasting. That is probably the bottom line. Horsemen will go where race conditions and purses can best meet their goals.

"It will be interesting to see what is offered down there," said Delp. "I don't think there are going to be a lot of Virginia people supporting major racing betting-wise, but simulcasting could be a salvation."

Richard Hoffberger, president of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said, "It's the same deal as always. If some way is figured out to bring out a lot more money, horsemen will go. They look for the best deal."

De Francis says a start-up date could be known by February and concurs that September in Virginia might be ideal.

"If there does turn out to be a delay, that may even be a positive," he said.

Colonial Downs on track

And what are the chances of Colonial Downs opening on time?

Very good, according to Donald R. Price, executive director of the Virginia Racing Commission. But that's subject, of course, to this winter's weather.

"They're moving along according to schedule, and in some areas a little ahead of schedule," said Price, who said the commission will not allow the track to open unless it is functional.

The target dates are June 29 (the projected opening), July 1 and July 17.

If the track does not card live racing by July 1, it loses use of the state's off-track betting sites. If it does not start by July 17, a $1 million performance bond on file is forfeited to the commission.

Price added that the official groundbreaking "is likely to be Dec. 18," the date of the next commission meeting.

Boniface says no to Tokyo

Boniface declined an invitation to run Ops Smile in today's $3 million-plus Japan Cup in Tokyo, and Maryland will be represented only by Awad, who was bred at Ryehill Farm in Mount Airy.

"It was a pretty good deal," said Boniface. "All expenses for the owner, trainer and rider are paid. I'm not sure I won't be sorry.

"When he finished third in his last race, we stayed here waiting for the Laurel Turf Cup [which was run on dirt]. When he was third again in his last race, we decided not to go."

Ops Smile instead competed yesterday in the Red Smith Handicap on the grass at Aqueduct, finishing second.

Laurel schedule change

Laurel Park has made a slight correction to its December schedule, making Dec. 18 and Dec. 19 live days.

After Christmas week, Laurel will shift to a Wednesday through Sunday live schedule to conform to the Gulfstream Park meeting in Florida.

Pub Date: 11/24/96

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