Colonial ends on no firmer footing Attendance takes dive, on-track betting down

October 12, 1998|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Now the waiting begins.

Despite some hopeful signs, the future of Colonial Downs remains questionable after its second thoroughbred meeting ended yesterday with on-track attendance significantly off and on-track betting slightly down from 1997.

Off-season activity will be crucial for Virginia's first thoroughbred track, which has drawn raves for the condition of its racing surfaces, but probably faces a major reorganization.

Track chairman Jeffrey Jacobs has vowed to "make some hard decisions about the future of Colonial Downs," one of which is whether to initiate Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

Jacobs did not return phone calls to The Sun this week, but the general consensus is that he will not decide whether to seek bankruptcy protection until he knows the outcome of the pending arbitration involving the Maryland Jockey Club, which has managed the Colonial Downs meetings.

He wants to reduce the fee the Maryland group receives (2 percent of most betting monies), asserting that it cuts too much into profits. The arbitration is expected to be heard in late November or December.

Another factor suggesting a delay is Colonial Downs' host role in the Breeders' Crown, harness racing's showcase event, next month. Track officials do not want major business decisions to distract attention from that.

Since the 1998 meeting was shortened by five days, corresponding figures relate only to the first 25 cards of 1997.

They reveal a decrease in average daily handle from $174,590 to $169,600 and a whopping decline in average daily attendance from 3,305 to 2,156, despite the addition of the Virginia Derby this year.

The numbers for the final week also fell appreciably. Only five times during the meeting did the handle rise, with the greatest increase coming for the Virginia Derby ($453,503 on-track).

In the good-news department, Colonial Downs had success on Mondays via simulcast wagering while acting as a bridge track between afternoon and night facilities, and it continued to prosper via satellite betting in the state.

"All in all, the meeting went fairly well," said John Mooney, the jockey club's executive vice president. "But I would expect some adjustments next year. I think we'll run more twilight cards, so we're able to use the turf course."

The grass course is Colonial's centerpiece, but there are no lights for night-time racing. Moving to a twilight schedule on Thursdays and Fridays would provide more turf events.

Mooney said the track "is very dependent on OTBs the rest of the year" to maintain its $150,000 daily purse structure. The reduction in racing days also helped.

"We'd like to build up enough in escrow to see the number of days increase," said Mooney. "It's difficult to keep horsemen stabled at the track when the meeting is short."

NOTE: Da Hoss, whose most recent race had been a victory in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Mile at Woodbine two years ago, won yesterday's $30,000 allowance feature by one length, covering 1 1/8 miles on the turf in 1 minute, 49 1/5 seconds.

Pub Date: 10/12/98

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