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The thunder of pounding hooves returns to Charles Town

August 26, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A new $8 million thoroughbred racing track was opened at Charles Town Races & Slots Wednesday night, a project which track officials believe makes the facility one of the best racing facilities in the mid-Atlantic region.

Discussions about how to improve and expand the track had been under way for about a year.

The new track is 71/2 furlongs instead of the previous length of six furlongs and features a new base below the racing surface.

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

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A furlong is a one-eighth of mile.

To allow for races up to 71/2 furlongs, track owners lengthened "chutes," the areas where starting gates are set up along the track.

The work also included new lighting at the track, a new racing surface, new drainage system and banking the turns. Owners also are planning to build a three-eighths-of-a-mile training track on property the track owns along Fifth Avenue and building four new barns, track officials said.

The training track and new barns should be completed in the spring, said John Finamore, senior vice president of regional operations for Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns the track.

The renovated track was officially opened when Jefferson County Commission President Al Hooper, Finamore and Wayne Harrison, acting president of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, cut a ribbon to the new oval.

"This is a new era for Charles Town," Jeff Gilleas, publicity manager, told a crowd over a loud speaker system.

Before the first race Wednesday, tractors raked the reddish sand on the new track. At the west end of the track, a bank was landscaped and bushes were planted to spell out Charles Town Races.

The horse Quiet Manner, ridden by jockey J.D. Acosta, won the first race on the new track. After the race, Acosta said he could feel the difference.

When he raced on the old track, Acosta said he could feel his horse pounding on the hard surface.

"Right now, I don't hear my horse doing anything like that," Acosta said.

Acosta said the new track felt like a "sponge."

"I think all the horsemen are tickled to death. We got exactly what the horsemen wanted," said Jim Casey, who lives in Jefferson County and is considered one of the biggest horse breeders in West Virginia.

Fans were glad to see the track back open. The oval had been closed for three weeks to allow for the work.

Bill Reynolds, a regular patron, said he spent three weeks watching television at home and was glad to get back to the track.

"They did a good job with it," said Reynolds, of Front Royal, Va.

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