Horse racing goes on in Charles Town — but with no spectators in grandstands

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Charles Town Races got the go-ahead this morning to allow horse racing without audiences in the grandstand three times a week.

Meanwhile, the state Racing Commission is still considering how to deal with idle greyhounds while coronavirus concerns have led to a near-shutdown of West Virginia.

The Racing Commission had an emergency meeting by telephone on Friday morning.

That came two days after Gov. Jim Justice announced the closure of West Virginia’s casinos, which are connected to horse racing and dog racing.

One of the arguments kennels and horsemen made is that greyhounds and horses need to be exercised.

Horse racing starts again tonight at Charles Town Races with an eight-race card with nobody in the grandstand.

Phil Reale

Doing so assures the horses in stables at the track may remain there, said Phil Reale, a lobbyist for the Charles Town horsemen’s association, and it also means purses can be used to support horses and workers during the current crisis.

“Three races a week allows those people to be able to make some money to be able to feed their horses,” Reale said in a telephone interview after the meeting. “If they don’t, they won’t be able to feed horses.”

The agreement that was worked out prior to the Racing Commission meeting includes measures to limit who has access to the track.

The request was for Charles Town Races and does not appear to affect Mountaineer Racetrack in the Northern Panhandle.

Similar circumstances are being considered for greyhound racing at Mardi Gras Casino in Nitro and at Wheeling Island.

Greyhound breeders seemed agreeable to a two-week timeout for racing but wanted to be able to exercise dogs in the meantime.

Kennel operator Steve Sarras said greyhounds need to be exercised, which would require access to the tracks that are located on casino property.

“It’s extremely important for us to start working these dogs,” he said. We’re going to run the risk of them having dog fights, being aggressive to other dogs.”

He also said that if a layoff lasts too long then the greyhounds could get out of shape and run greater risk of injury.

Joe Moore, director of the Racing Commission, expressed a concern that the state veterinarian would not be available to deal with injuries. He said she is in self-quarantine for two weeks.

Kim Florence, regional vice president of Delaware North, which runs the casinos in Nitro and Wheeling, preferred to err on the side of caution.

“We are of the feeling that taking a two-week break is not going to be detrimental to the greyhounds,” Florence said. “We would respectfully request that we take the measures that we’re taking.”

Members of the Racing Commission put off a decision and decided to meet by telephone again at 8:30 Monday morning.

Racing Commission Chairman Jack Rossi noted the unprecedented nature we’re living through.

“I don’t think anyone ever thought anything like this could ever happen,” he said.

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