Horse racing now halts in Charles Town, reversing earlier plan to run with no fans

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CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — The resumption of live horse racing in Charles Town didn’t last long.

On Friday, the state Racing Commission agreed to allow a few races a week with no fans in the grandstand. The races were being livestreamed, with the winnings intended to support employees and the upkeep of horses.

Today, members of the Racing Commission participated in another emergency meeting prompted by Charles Town Races owner Penn National Gaming, which was requesting a shutdown.

Commission members went ahead and held the meeting via telephone but said a stay-home order issued Monday by Gov. Jim Justice already means there can’t be racing.

“I feel that the governor took care of that last night, but we’d already called the meeting,” said Jack Rossi, chairman of the Racing Commission.

Legal counsel Kelli Talbot agreed, reading from a list of “non-essential” business activities that includes racing.

“So yeah, I think that does kind of take care of the issue,” said Talbot, a deputy attorney general.

An agreement between the casino and the horsemen’s association provides that ability to train and exercise horses, an expense that meeting participants said would be covered by the horsemen’s association.

“I commend the horsemen and the track for reaching an agreement before it ever came to it,” Rossi said.

A similar agreement was reached Monday morning to allow greyhounds to exercise at two West Virginia tracks while coronavirus precautions are under way. But the greyhounds are not participating in live racing right now.

West Virginia’s tracks that have horse racing and greyhound racing are all connected to casinos that were shut by order of Governor Justice last week.

Horse racing briefly started up again Friday night at Charles Town Races with an eight-race card with nobody in the grandstand.

The plan at the time was for three races a week, with the winners’ purses meant to support horse racing while the economy grinds to a halt.

Today it became clear that plan was no longer possible.

“Now let’s all go out and support what our government is asking us to do and protect ourselves and others – and do what we have to do to whip this covid-19,” Rossi said as the emergency meeting concluded.

Story by Brad McElhinny