With state casinos closed by executive order, the state Racing Commission on Friday began the process of suspending greyhound racing at tracks in Nitro and Wheeling, but approved limited thoroughbred racing at Charles Town.
Commissioners recessed the emergency meeting until Monday to give management of the Nitro and Wheeling Island greyhound racetracks and casinos and greyhound owners the weekend to resolve issues over the owners’ request to be able to continue to train dogs at the tracks.
Both sides agree that without casino revenue, greyhound racing purses will be too small to justify racing — particularly with the only potential wagering coming from off-site simulcasts.
“That would be a drastically reduced number from what would be distributed in the course of a normal business week,” commission executive director Joe Moore said.
Greyhound owners want access to the tracks four days a week to train dogs, something Kim Florence with Delaware North — owner of both state greyhound racetracks — said the company would prefer not to do.
“We are taking extreme caution in trying to keep people away from the properties, as mandated by the governor,” she said.
However, greyhound owner Steve Sarras said it is vital that greyhounds be able to train at the tracks during the shutdown to avoid a spike in injuries when racing resumes. He also said the dogs will become aggressive if they are not able to burn off energy running at the tracks.
“Every week you leave dogs off that track, they get de-conditioned,” he said, adding that dogs would need one-to-two weeks’ training for every week of inactivity before racing could resume.
Sarras said the training would require a limited number of kennel personnel and track staff, although Florence indicated that all staff at the Delaware North facilities have been sent home. Sarras also pointed out that the greyhound track Delaware North owns in Arkansas is also closed by executive order, but is permitting training on-site.
Florence proposed suspending training during the two-week closure of the casinos, but racing lobbyist Chad Robinson noted the shutdown could go on long beyond that time-frame.
“This is not a two-week window. [Gov. Jim Justice] might have said that in the press conference, but the proclamation says indefinitely,” Robinson said.
Ultimately, commissioners recessed the meeting to Monday morning, encouraging track management and greyhound owners to try to come up with a compromise over the weekend.
“I encourage the tracks and the greyhound people to sit down and put your heads together — using social distancing — and get something worked out,” Commission chairman Joe Rossi advised.
Meanwhile, commissioners approved a request by Charles Town Races at Hollywood Casino to resume thoroughbred racing on a limited schedule, beginning Friday night.
The races will be conducted with no spectators or live wagering, and limited numbers of track and racing personnel will be permitted on-site.
Commissioners also approved cancellation of five Wednesday and one Sunday race dates between March 25 and May 10, and postponement of the Charles Town Classic, originally scheduled for April 18.
Phil Reale, who represents the Charles Town HBPA, said the reduced schedule is a compromise worked out between thoroughbred owners and trainers and track management.
“We’re all trying to work together here in the spirit of cooperation to assure not only what’s best for the horses, but also for those who maintain the horses,” he said.
Mountaineer Racetrack, the other thoroughbred track in the state, is not scheduled to begin its 2020 live racing season until April 26.