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Will horse racing return to Colonial Downs?

Posted at 5:24 PM, Jan 21, 2015

New Kent, Va. - Two pieces of legislation could help open the gates at Colonial Downs again, bringing horse racing back to Southeastern Virginia.

The first is part of a stabilization bill. It would allow Colonial Downs to apply for a limited license for this year with the Virginia Racing Commission.

The second bill would allow Colonial Downs to compete as part of the complete summer racing series where bets could be wagered by computers similar to slot machines.

Right now, these are just the two plans to get the horses racing again.

But now local horse farmers are worried about what the new Colonial Downs may mean for them.

Leanne Hester breeds, raises and trains horses out of her backyard in Gloucester.

Right now, she has 15 horses on her farm, which costs her quite a bit of money throughout the year.

“I try hard not to look at it. It would just scare you,” she says.

It got a while lot more expensive with no racing at Colonial Downs.

“It’s very devastating, very costly endeavor. You know the horses only run so often every year so it has really kicked me out an entire year,” she says.

Hester says she’s out about $50,000 a year since racing ended at Colonial Downs – the main track where she runs her horses.

The good news for Hester is that the owner, Jeff Jacobs, is working on reopening the track along with proposing new state legislation that would increase the track’s profits.

The bad news is that they want to lower the amount of racing days, which Hester says will hurt small horse farmers like herself.

“He wants to take the whole pot and put it into a very shortened meet so that you have very large purses, and that type of money is only for stake horses. So, you know, you're getting horses from across the country and across the water coming in for those type of purses, where us smaller local horse people would not be able to compete in those at all,” she says.

Hester says if she can’t compete at Colonial Downs, she would have to travel more than four hours to find a track to race at. She says that’s just not feasible for her or Virginia’s fragile horse racing industry.

“You know, there’s no benefit to it if there is nowhere to run your horse. The hay people and the grain and the businesses that surround it, they’re devastated. I don’t know how the restaurants are surviving out in that area,” she says.

Hester, who sits on the Virginia Thoroughbred Association Board, says they’ve been negotiating with Jacobs to find a happy median, but says right now both sides are at an impasse.