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Horse track ready to open next week, officials say

August 20, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - A new horse racing track at Charles Town Races & Slots is scheduled to open next Wednesday, track officials said Thursday.

The project cost more than $8 million.

Discussions about how to improve and expand the track had gone on for about a year.

Horsemen wanted to lengthen the track to make it more competitive. There also has been concern about a concrete base under the old track, which made it difficult for water to drain from the track following rains, horsemen said.

The old track was six furlongs. A furlong is a one-eighth of a mile.

To allow for races up to 7 1/2 furlongs, track owners said they would lengthen chutes, which are areas where starting gates are set up along the track.

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The work also included installing new lighting, a new racing surface and a new drainage system. Other work included banking the turns, building a three-eighths-of-a-mile training track on property the track owns between the oval and U.S. 340 and building four new barns, track officials said.

Wayne Harrison, acting president of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, briefed the Jefferson County Commissioners on the project Thursday.

"It's a whole new feeling at Charles Town," Harrison told the commissioners.

Track officials initially estimated the new track would cost about $7 million, but it will end up costing more than $8 million, said John V. Finamore, senior vice president of regional operations for Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns the track.

Last month, a spokesman for a new horse racing organization said a survey his group conducted among horsemen shows they want a bigger expansion of the track compared to the one favored by owners.

Saying turns at the track are sharp and harmful to local horses, the survey conducted by The Thoroughbred Club claims horsemen favor widening the turns by expanding the track from six to seven furlongs.

The expansion undertaken by track owners did not widen turns.

At the time, Harrison downplayed the survey, saying it avoided some of the more difficult issues, such as asking horsemen how long they would be willing to have the track shut down to expand it.

The HBPA favored lengthening the chutes rather than widening the turns because members of the horsemen's group were concerned about how long the track would have to be shut down to widen the turns, track officials said.

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