Gridiron stars highlight of Breeders Classics

September 22, 1997


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Sam Huff brought an all-star lineup of NFL greats to Sunday's 11th running of the West Virginia Breeders Classics at Charles Town Races.

Normally, the Hall of Fame linebacker spends his Sundays behind a microphone calling games for the Washington Redskins. It was a bye week for the Redskins, however, and Huff is president of West Virginia Breeders Classics, Ltd.

"This is a very special day because they have new ownership," Huff said during an infield reception prior to the races. In February the track was bought by Penn National Gaming Inc. of Wyomissing, Pa., which owns Penn National Race Track near Harrisburg, Pa., among others.


Huff said he worked hard to get the video lottery referendum passed in Jefferson County. It failed the first time, but passed with 64 percent of the vote in a second referendum. That allowed the track to offer video lottery this month.

Huff brought along gridiron allies and adversaries from the past. Hall of Famers Johnny Unitas and Art Donovan of the Baltimore Colts were there, along with Redskin greats Bobby Mitchell and Mark Moseley. Former 'Skins Joe Jacoby and Pat Fisher were on hand, as well.

Many of the several thousand in attendance were as interested in getting programs and tote sheets autographed as they were in the races. Six of the nine races were exclusively for West Virginia-bred thoroughbreds.

As for the new owners, Huff said Penn National "is doing more than they ever promised to do." That includes a new roof, press box and a computerized tote board.

William Bork Sr., Penn National's president, said the track cost his company $16 million, but the renovations from the video lottery facility to new barns will cost $20 million more.

Charles Town officials will meet today with West Virginia Lottery Commission officials to seek approval to add more video slots. He said the company wants to increase the number of machines from the current 350 to 1,000 by the end of the year.

Bork said purses have increased from $22,000 a day when they took over to $40,000 now. He expects purses to exceed $60,000 later this year.

According to Bork, the track has hired 125 people since February and preserved the 800 jobs already there.

"We provide more jobs than the steel industry," West Virginia Racing Commission Chairman Robert Burke said of the importance of racing in the state. He said Charles Town will be an attractive vehicle for tourism now that video slots are operating.

According to Burke, net revenues from slots at the state's other three tracks were $79 million last year. "I think Charles Town will put those numbers through the roof," he added.

"If we didn't have video lottery, three of our four tracks in this state would be closed," Burke said. He admitted thoroughbred racing produces much less revenue.

With 15 percent of slot machine revenues going to breeders, Burke said that will mean bigger purses, better quality horses and more people at the tracks.

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