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Horsemen worried about track expansion

August 31, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

About 300 horse owners and trainers voiced concerns Saturday about the proposed expansion of Charles Town Races & Slots' thoroughbred track, with some claiming they'll lose money if the plan goes through.

The proposal, made by the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association's Board of Directors, calls for expanding the three-quarter mile track from six furlongs to seven furlongs, association President Dick Watson said.

Expanding the track by a furlong would allow the width of the track to be expanded by 20 feet on the home stretch and 10 feet on the back stretch, track President Jim Buchanan has said. A furlong equals one-eighth of a mile.

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Such a project could cost more than $5 million, track officials said.

Horse racing would have to be moved to the old Shenandoah Downs track for two to three months during construction.

Spectators would be unable to watch racing at Shenandoah Downs. Races there would be televised at the Charles Town track to allow patrons to view them.

Horsemen member Ann Hilton said after the meeting some members are concerned the temporary move to Shenandoah Downs would cause them hardships.

Others said that because watching live racing won't be possible, a large number of spectators will not turn out to watch it televised, resulting in decreased revenue for owners.

"We do need to upgrade. ... I think we can do it a better way," Hilton told the crowd.

Hilton said most of the horsemen at the meeting said they would prefer improvements to the track be limited to fixing its base and drainage. The concrete base under the track makes it difficult for water to drain from the track after it rains, Watson said earlier this month.

Watson told the crowd he would ask Penn National Gaming, the company that owns the track, for an estimate of the cost and the length of time the Charles Town track would be closed for repairs if just the drainage and base were repaired.

He said he hoped to have that information for the next horsemen's meeting on Sept. 13.

Watson said getting a clear feel for what the horsemen want might be difficult, since many have different opinions on what type of repairs should be made to the Charles Town track.

"They are all independent business owners," Watson said after the meeting. "They are all in competition with each other, so consequently, there is no one right or one wrong answer."

Track officials have said one of the main advantages of expanding the track is it would make it easier for horses to negotiate turns. They described Charles Town's turns as flat, which can lead to injuries to horses on the turns.

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