Track reacts to consultants' comments

July 24, 2005|By LARRY YANOS

Help wanted: Veterinarians.

Apply: Charles Town Races & Slots.

The West Virginia State Racing Commission is reviewing the "health and welfare" of Charles Town Races & Slots.

The group, concerned with the breaking down of horses earlier in the year, recently brought three consultants from Kentucky to the West Virginia thoroughbred oval to make recommendations for improvements.

As far as the racing commission is concerned, the No. 1 priority at Charles Town is getting some help for the state vet, Dr. Martha Hunt.

"There were a number of items addressed by management and horsemen and looked at by the consultants, but I feel the presence of one or two more veterinarians would really be helpful," state racing commission member Bryan Mitchell said. "We are really working on hiring one or two vets. The salary and benefits are good."


Mitchell said he feels the addition of one or more vets is the key to success.

"With extra help, every horse running that night will have an examination in the morning," the Martinsburg, W.Va., native said. "The vets will make sure the horses are sound or they will not run."

What they said

John V. Finamore, senior vice president of regional operations for Charles Town, said the consultants were very thorough and had many positive things to say.

"The consultants reviewed a number of items and made several recommendations," said Wayne Harrison, president of the Charles Town Division/Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

Both management and horsemen were concerned about a variety of issues at the Charles Town racetrack and the state racing commission decided to get outside opinions.

There were three major concerns cited by the consultants: The number of racing days, racetrack maintenance and the definite need for a second veterinarian.

Harrison said he thinks higher claiming prices and changing the claiming rule would be beneficial.

Here are the consultants' observations:

Reduce the live racing schedule from 245 days to 220 days.

Both Finamore and Harrison said the consultants suggested the schedule reduction because of the wear and tear on the racing surface. The excessive use makes regular track maintenance virtually impossible, they said.

Harrison added, "I have mixed emotions on that. The law requires we race 220 days a year. Maybe, we could race more races per day or run just on weekends in January and February. I need to review some options with management."

Finamore added "Management encourages a 220-day schedule, as by law."

The racetrack surface was OK, but they would like to see some more loom in the track.

"They said the track is holding too much water and the situation worsens on heavy rain days," Harrison said. "They want to add more clay. It's a maintanance issue."

A definite need for a second veterinarian.

"We need a pre-race vet to see if the horses entered are sound enough to run and also to view horses stabled at Charles Town," Harrison said. "We also need a better drug testing program. That's a real concern by the horsemen."

Harrison would like to see the track raise the bottom claiming price to $4,000.

"The bottom now is $3,000. We lead the nation in claims," Harrison said. "Such a low claiming price allows people an easy entry into the race business, the money is so good. We have claiming horses one night and wanting to run them back the next. We need to pay more attention to our animals and their condition."

And how about the claiming rules?

"We need to have claiming rules changed," Harrison said. "If you claim a horse, you must give the animal some time off and run it back 25 percent above the claim, not run it back a week later at the same price. Good trainers and good owners do not abuse their horses, but this kind of money leads to 'When can we run them back?' In truth, they need two to three weeks off."

The report confirmed the rate of breakdowns at Charles Town is typically higher than the national average and higher than Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort, West Virginia's other thoroughbred track.

Finamore and Director of Racing Richard (Dickie) Moore says year-round racing and the number of horses stabled at Charles Town are factors in many of the problems.

"The breakdowns are higher because we race more, we have different claiming rules," Finamore said.

Moore added, "Jockeys, trainers and most owners are not going to run their horses on an unsafe racetrack, yet we have the highest horse per race ratio in the country."

Larry Yanos is sports editor of The Daily Mail. He covers horse racing for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2311, or by e-mail at

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