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Horsemen call track's repair issue a 'disaster'

October 06, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Calling the situation a "disaster," the head of a horsemen's group at Charles Town Races & Slots said an attempt by track owners and horsemen to work as a team to correct a problem of wet areas on the track has collapsed.

Wayne Harrison, acting president of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said his organization was told by a track official Tuesday that the HBPA would no longer be allowed to use a consultant to oversee work on the closed track.

"They have now slammed the door in our face," Harrison said.

A track official would not say if HBPA track consultant John Passero was taken off the project, and said the track is following the recommendations of its track consultant.

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"I'm not sure of the whereabouts of Mr. Passero at this point," said Eric Schippers, vice president of public affairs for Penn National Gaming Inc., the firm that owns the track.

Work on correcting wet areas on the track is going well and the oval is expected to be open for this weekend's West Virginia Breeders Classics, Schippers said.

About $1 million in purses are at stake in the Breeders Classics races.

The track has been closed since Thursday because of continued drainage problems.

Harrison said Dickey Moore, who oversees racing operations at the track, told him that Passero could not act as a consultant on the project.

Moore could not be reached for comment.

"Being it's private property, they can do whatever they want to," Harrison said.

Harrison said he believes Penn National removed Passero from the project because Passero and track owners had different opinions on the track. Harrison said he could not see how allowing Passero to have a say in the outcome of the work would hurt anything.

"Are they trying to hide something?" Harrison asked.

From now on, it is the track's responsibility to make sure the oval is safe, Harrison said.

Schippers said track owners have been working cooperatively with horsemen and taking Passero's input into consideration.

"Our guiding principle has always been the safety of the jockeys and the horses," Schippers said.

Schippers has said that correcting the wet areas on the track was important because ignoring them can cause an uneven racing surface.

Although track officials have said it is unclear what led to the wet areas on the track, Schippers said it appears that heavy rains from the remnants of hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne caused the problem.

Much of the repair work has been in the clubhouse turn and a chute, Harrison said.

Jockeys are expected to be allowed to train and race on the track Friday to determine if they like the new surface, Harrison said.

The track was closed for three weeks in August while workers installed a new racing surface, part of an $8 million refurbishment of the facility.

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

The track was closed again from Sept. 15 to Sept. 24 after wet areas were discovered. It was closed again last Thursday and has not reopened for racing.

Schippers said Friday that races lost during the shutdown will be made up by adding races to each evening's card when the track reopens.

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