CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — A dispute between the Charles Town Race Track and the State Racing Commission heated up Wednesday when a track official strongly criticized a member of the commission.

The controversy started Tuesday when the commission refused to sign off on the $1.2 million purse for the Charles Town Classic thoroughbred race in April.

Commissioner Ken Lowe said the purse is too large. He proposed a $300,000 purse or a compromise where the track would match the purse amount to increase the prize money.

“The race is off,” said John Finamore, vice president of Penn National, which owns the track, “and Mr. Lowe’s alternative option is a non-starter.”

“There’s plenty of money in the purse fund,” Finamore said. “It’s not for him (Lowe) to decide how it’s to be spent. We have an agreement in place with the horsemen’s group.”

Finamore said it is the seven-figure purse size that attracts big name thoroughbreds and generates national attention for horse racing, the track and the eastern panhandle.

However, Lowe argues the big purse attracts out-of-state horses, which negates some of the benefit for the local community. He said some horsemen would rather see an event with more races and smaller purses.

In an interview with MetroNews affiliate WEPM in Martinsburg, Lowe said he was open to negotiation.

“There has to be a meeting the minds,” Lowe said. “This race was never, ever intended to be eliminated; it was to take a close look at the financial aspects.”

However, Finamore said as of today, the race is off.

At least three eastern panhandle legislators have weighed in on the controversy. Republican Delegates Paul Espinosa, Jill Upson and Riley Moore have all criticized the commission’s decision. Governor Jim Justice has also said he hoped the commission’s decision could be overturned.

“I have asked my staff to look into ways to have this decision reversed,” he said.

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