Horsemen, track hit hard by rough winter conditions

[cleeng_content id=”643255799″ description=”Read it now!” price=”0.49″ t=”article”]CHARLES TOWN – Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races has lost 17 days of live thoroughbred racing since the beginning of the year as a regular pattern of snow, ice and sub-freezing temperatures has wreaked havoc throughout the region.

But a lack of available horses and the shear number of races lost since Jan. 2 will make mandatory rescheduling efforts difficult as makeup dates are proposed later this spring, said Erich Zimny, vice president of racing operations at Charles Town.

Zimny said that the track is beginning to “formulate a game plan” about how to proceed with rescheduling lost racing cards, but with at least another month of winter on the calendar “we’re still taking a little bit of a wait and see approach.”

Jockey Jevian Toledo and Dimples (No. 6) race to victory last week at Charles Town during an allowance race for older females going 6 1/2 furlongs.

Jockey Jevian Toledo and Dimples (No. 6) race to victory last week at Charles Town during an allowance race for older females going 6 1/2 furlongs.

“We’re talking about jamming a month of races into the final 10 months of the year, when we already see it more difficult to fill races just by virtue of the number of horses that are available,” Zimny said. “We’re doing our best to come up with a schedule that will do that, but I would say that the ability to fill this many races in the last 10 months of the year is definitely a concern.”

Late last year, Charles Town was approved by the West Virginia Racing Commission to host 220 days of live racing, all featuring at least nine races. By law, racing cards cancelled due to inclement weather are required to be rescheduled.

Charles Town, which became the first track in the country to offer winter racing when it opened in 1933 and remains one of the few venues to hold year-round racing, has in the past added days throughout the racing calendar to make up for cancellations. The track has also previously added races to already scheduled cards, which over time build up to make up days.

“Over the course of the year, whatever we did, would have to be some combination of whole days and additional races on some days,” Zimny said. “We’re still formulating a game plan to be honest. It really also depends on how many days in total that we miss because that might impact how we decide to go about rescheduling them.

“There’s 21 days of racing scheduled in March, so that would be a difficult month to try to do something even if you wanted to,” Zimny added. “We’re still taking a little bit of a wait and see approach, but we’re starting to put pen to paper and see what the options are here.”

Until just recently, the incessant onslaught of snowy and icy conditions combined to hit area horsemen hard, especially in the wallet. With repeated days of racing cancelled throughout the region, jockeys, trainers and owners found themselves without the opportunity to win purse money, the lifeblood of the racing industry.

Susan Wantz, who owns the small breeding and racing operation Copperville Farm in nearby Taneytown, Md., said she could recall having had nine horses entered in separate races this winter only to have them all cancelled due to poor weather. Wantz said she brought some racehorses home to her farm because it wasn’t worth keeping them in training, while also sending some of her pregnant broodmares away to give birth elsewhere for fear that poor winter weather could render help unavailable during a difficult foaling.

“We haven’t had a race that went since Dec. 18,” she said. “We haven’t had income at all. I don’t recall it ever being this, let’s call it diabolical. It’s been really, really tough.”

Wantz said she greeted the recent turn toward better weather with open arms, as she had a pair of horses entered to run this week.

“The problem I mostly have is not just from the financial standpoint,” Wantz said. “I love my horses and if they can’t train and the races are getting cancelled, what is this doing to their systems? What is this doing to their readiness? What kind of condition is the track in? There’s so many factors that you worry about.”

Jeff Runco, all-time leading trainer at Charles Town and the winner of the past eight conditioning titles at the track, said what has amounted to essentially a lost month of training has been tough on the horses. He said trainers can do things like give the horses extra time walking around the barn and also cut back on the amount of food they eat to help keep them fit, but there is no substitute for regular outside conditioning.

“It’s tough for some of these owners,” Runco said. “It’s just one of the bad deals about racing in the winter. We had a bad winter. It’s rare. Luckily it doesn’t happen that often.

“But they’re back going now and we’ve had a good full week of training,” Runco added. “There’s not much you can do about the weather.”

The track has also seen costs associated with drawing racing cards days in advance and printing racing programs go unmatched without the normal corresponding revenue from handle – the money bet on live racing. The venue has also endured a challenging time maintaining the racing surface.

“It’s frustrating for everybody, including the racetrack,” Zimny said. “Those days that we scheduled and took entrees for, we wanted to run those days.

“It’s impacted everybody from the horsemen to the racetrack to the fans,” Zimny added. “It’s been tough all around.”[/cleeng_content]

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