CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The State Racing Commission Tuesday rejected a proposed $1.25 million dollar purse for the Charles Town Classic horse race, throwing the state’s highest profile race in doubt.
Commissioner Ken Lowe moved to reject the allocation of the prize money.
“I couldn’t get why they should spend that much money on one race,” Lowe told MetroNews.
The vote surprised track officials.
“It’s stunning,” said Erich Zimny, vice president of Charles Town Races, who added that the scheduled April 22 race is now in question.
Lowe offered an alternative purse of $300,000, but Zimny said that’s not enough prize money to attract the top horses.
“We compete with other tracks for horses,” Zimny said. “For $300,000 we have no chance.”
Lowe said he has been raising concerns for months about the purse size, questioning whether the community and the state are getting the bang for their $1.25 million.
“It makes no sense,” Lowe said. “This is a grade two race. The rule of thumb is a $200,000 purse. The (proposed) purse is totally excessive.”
However, Zimny says the race attracts national attention–it is broadcast on Fox Sports–and it represents a significant promotion for racing.
“It brings more people for racing to the Eastern Panhandle, more attention to racing in West Virginia,” he said. “To cancel it can do nothing but harm the industry.”
Lowe holds out hope that the race can still be salvaged. He offered to meet the track owners half way, suggesting that the track put up half of the prize money for the purse.
“Let’s get everybody back together,” he said after the meeting.
Money for the purse fund comes from betting and casino gambling at the track.
Governor Jim Justice weighed in on the controversy and backed the Classic. “I don’t dictate what my appointees do but I am in support of the one big race, the Charles Town Classic,” said Justice. “I have asked my staff to look into ways to have this decision reversed.”
Delegate Paul Espinosa represents Jefferson County where the track is located. He also criticized the Commission’s decision and urged it to reconsider.
“I believe it is reasonable to expect that the West Virginia Racing Commission – the state regulatory body responsible for racing oversight – honor the negotiated agreement between the CTHBPA (Charles Town Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association) and management, that appears to be well within the industry norm, as is customary in other racing jurisdictions,” said Espinosa.
Delegate Jill Upson, also from Jefferson County, said the Classic is an important event and should continue. “Since 2009, the Charles Town Classic has established itself as one of the most prestigious races of the season,” she said. “It provides jobs and much needed tourism dollars to our local economy. The commission’s decision today puts all that in jeopardy, and I strongly urge them to reconsider their action.”