West Virginia tracks gets OK to begin racing May 14

Posted: April 30, 2020

Horse racing without patrons will be permitted to resume May 14 in West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice announced during an April 30 press conference at which he unveiled his “West Virginia Strong—the Comeback” plan to reopen businesses and permit various activities.

Justice during the press conference specifically mentioned “spectator-less horse racing,” which was held for two nights at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in March before Justice issued a stay-at-home executive order because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The barn area at Charles Town has remained open, and Justice said “it takes a couple of weeks of active training” for horses to be ready to race.

Charles Town intends to begin racing again the evening of May 14. It is scheduled for live racing three nights a week on a Thursday-through-Saturday schedule.

“They will be starting back very soon so we can have horse racing,” Justice said. When asked about other sporting events, he said: “We’re going to continue to expand (openings) as we watch the numbers. We’ll bring it back to normalcy as fast as we can. We need to watch and be ready to attack a problem if we end up with a problem.”

The reopening of the state’s economy is predicated on three consecutive days of maintaining cumulative COVID-19 positive test results below 3%, which was the case April 27-29. The six-week reopening process lists casinos as eligible to reopen sometime in weeks three through six.

Justice said further details on “week three” would be released May 4.

“The opening schedule for these businesses (such as casinos) will be based upon the recommendations of state medical experts and upon testing data available at that time,” the plan states.

Charles Town issued a release May 1 with details of its reopening plan.

“We couldn’t be happier to resume live racing here at Charles Town and do it in what we believe to be a safe environment,” said Erich Zimny, Vice President of Racing and Sports Operations. “Thank you to the governor’s office and West Virginia Racing Commission for working with the stakeholders to make it reality.”

Until further notice, Charles Town’s receiving barn will be closed with the only horses permitted on track grounds being those stabled in West Virginia and West Virginia-breds. Trainers not allocated stalls at Charles Town with such a horse who would like to race at the track must make arrangements to ship into the stalls of a trainer on the grounds after receiving permission from the racing secretary.

No trainers or staff will be permitted on the Charles Town grounds other than for those trainers allocated stalls.

In addition to the restriction on horse travel, the only jockeys currently covered to be named on horses and be present in the jockeys’ room are locally-based riders, defined as those with at least 50% of their mounts in 2020 having come at Charles Town. Any riders moving from state to state will be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine period.

Many of the typical protocols seen at other venues including temperature checks on people entering the grounds, the required wearing of protective coverings over individuals’ mouths and noses and the restriction of access to the grounds to only essential personnel will be some of those in effect.

In an effort defray the burden brought about by the racing shutdown, members of the Charles Town racing community have worked together with vendors, distributors and the Thoroughbred Charities of America to secure nearly 30 tons of free feed and feed supplements for distribution to trainers remaining on the grounds.

“We’d all like to sincerely say thank you to not only the Charles Town HBPA and Aftercare Charles Town for their dedicated efforts in working with the track and horsemen, but also to the TCA and our vendors for being able to provide at least some relief to those in our barn area,” Zimny said. “It was the quintessential team effort.”

Charles Town anticipates publishing conditions for its return to racing soon and plans on taking entries for May 14 on May 11.

The casinos at Charles Town and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort were ordered to close March 18. Mountaineer was scheduled to begin its 2020 meet April 26, and on May 1 management announced racing will begin May 31 with “racing closed to the public until further notice.”

(Charles Town photo by Tom LaMarra)