Tom LaMarra, The Blood-Horse
Posted: 12/23/15

The 2016 Charles Town Classic will be held April 23
Photo: Chad B. Harmon

The West Virginia Racing Commission Dec. 23 approved the $1.25 million purse for the 2016 Charles Town Classic (gr. II), but the vote wasn’t unanimous in light of concerns over a projected drop in available purse money next year.

The bulk of the stakes schedule at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races was approved by the WVRC Dec. 15. The purse for the Classic, a $1.5 million race the past three years, was tabled after commissioner Bill Phillips raised concerns about the overall purse account, which is largely funded by video lottery terminal revenue.

Gaming competition from neighboring states coupled with legislative action that has shifted VLT purse revenue to other state programs has impacted the purse account at both West Virginia tracks. To help maintain a competitive purse structure, Charles Town and the local Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association agreed to race 179 programs in 2016, down from 193 this year and 41 less than the minimum that must be applied for by statute.

Charles Town officials had argued the Classic has raised awareness of the local racing product and helped the track build its brand. Some members of the Charles Town HBPA believe the purse should be reduced to maintain the overnight racing program.

Commissioner Greg McDermott made a motion to approve the $1.25 million pot for next year.  Phillips then seconded the motion with an amendment—that the full purse be approved, but only if $750,000 came from the regular purse account.

That got no support, so Phillips withdrew his second of McDermott’s motion. WVRC chairman Jack Rossi then seconded the motion, and the commission voted 2-1 to approve the request for a $1.25 million purse, all of which will come from the regular purse account.

Before the vote, Rossi asked if the track or horsemen’s representatives had comments on the issue. Erich Zimny, vice president of racing operations for Charles Town, said the track “gave a fairly full summation of what we had to say” at the Dec. 15 meeting; no one from the Charles Town HBPA commented.

After the meeting, Phillips explained why he offered an amendment. “I would assume the track could add to the ($750,000) purse up to $1.25 million,” he said. “They participate in the division of (pari-mutuel) handle, so why couldn’t they add to the purse? That’s just my un-researched opinion.”

Some horsemen had floated the idea of investigating whether money from a VLT promotional fund could be used for the Charles Town Classic purse given the fact the race is a promotional tool and is tied to Jefferson County tourism. It wasn’t addressed at the Dec. 23 meeting.

Charles Town and the Charles Town HBPA earlier this year signed a multi-year contract that includes the percentage of the purse account that can be used for stakes.

In a release soon after the meeting, Charles Town said the Classic, even with a $250,000 reduction, remains among the richest races in the United States outside of the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

“We’re thrilled with the progress the Charles Town Classic has made in such a short time and look forward to again offering it as the centerpiece of our program,” Zimny said.  “It has been the key driver behind the enhanced level of national exposure our program has received as a whole, and the pari-mutuel successes we’ve had wouldn’t be possible without it.”

The Classic will be held April 23 next year. First post time will be 12:45 p.m. EDT, which was the case in 2015; the first six editions of the race were held in the evening.