Hammond hopes state won't snatch from purses

February 20, 2005|by LARRY YANOS

Charles Town Racing Secretary Jimmy Hammond said he hopes the West Virginia thoroughbred racetrack will not have to resort to trimming purses in 2005.

Gov. Joe Manchin, searching for ways to pay off some debt dealing with the state workmen's compensation issue, has targeted the four state racetracks and other industries for financial assistance.

Manchin determined that the four state racetracks would use a percentage of their video lottery revenues toward paying off a state debt.

He is asking for a total of $11 million, with the Charles Town horsemens' likely share at about $4.5 million. The other state thoroughbred racetrack in Chester, W.Va., and dog tracks in Charleston and Wheeling would also make contributions.


"There's a few ideas on the table as to how to pay our share, but I hope we don't have to cut purses, that's the last thing I would want," Hammond said. "We've really moved foward here in the last couple of years, cutting purses would definitely be a step backwards."

In July, horsemen at Charles Town receive 14 percent of the revenue generated by the video lottery to be used toward purses. The figure is 8 percent the rest of the year.

Hammond said he hopes that financial windfall, plus current money in the horsemens' account, can hold off any talk of purse reductions.

Don Combs, Executive Director of the Charles Town Division/Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, says things could be worse.

"The governor was originally looking for $20 million to pay some debt dealing with the workmen's compensation issue," Combs said. "He dropped that figure to $11 million and our share comes to about $4.5 million. In the former proposal, it would have been about $8.6 million."

Hammond says the newly released condition book calls for an average purse structure of $185,000-$200,000.

"We've really had a fluctuation in the horsemen's account," Hammond said. "In January 2004, we had $9,390,000 in the account. On July 1, 2004, the figure was $780,000. We had too much money in there at one time. We have to use it."

Hammond also says this time of year is a difficult time to gauge success against failure.

"A good example was on Saturday, Feb. 5. I gave away $198,000 in purses and we actually made $3,500 that night. The next day, the purses were $177,000 and we lost $78,000. Everyone is a winner when the slots are doing well and we have good purses."

Charles Town will have a special live holiday racing card on President's Day, weather permitting.

The 10-race card gets under way at 6:30 p.m.

Charles Town is conducting live racing five days a week (Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday) and management and horsemen are hoping to continue that schedule for the remainder of the year - with the blessing of the West Virginia State Racing Commission.

According to Mike Gathagan, the Vice President Communications for the Maryland Jockey Club, more than $120,000 was raised last Sunday for Noah Grove - the son of Bowie-based trainer Chris Grove - during a Laurel Park fundraiser.

"What a tremendous success," said former Pimlico General Manager Chick Lang, who led the Noah Fund charity with Fran Raffetto, wife of Maryland Jockey Club Chief Operating Officer Lou Raffetto. "To see Noah get up on the podium and thank everyone for coming to his party was priceless."

The 5-year-old was diagnosed with bone cancer last February and underwent a through-the-knee amputation. Last week Noah received his first prosthesis.

"A Night For Noah" exceeded expectations as cash donations from owners, trainers and jockeys from around the country totaled $50,000 and the 125 auction items brought in over $70,000 at the event.

A prize package to the 130th Preakness Stakes topped the auction items with a bid of $2,700. The bit Smarty Jones used to win last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes brought in $2,500. The winning bidder, Willie White, a partner in Skeedattle Associates, gave it to Noah.

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