Racing for Charity has all the earmarks of being a runaway success. On Sept. 20 at Great Meadow in The Plains, the Virginia Equine Alliance presented Virginia Downs, an afternoon of six Thoroughbred flat races with pari-mutuel wagering. The VEA invited Fauquier SPCA to participate by handling the ticket sales and parking, and their efforts harvested $15,000 (see photo): win-win, wire to wire.

This is the new concept of racing in Virginia, and it fits in very well with the vision of the horsemen who collaborated to form the Virginia Equine Alliance. They were intent on saving racing in the Commonwealth, because Colonial Downs in New Kent, after 17 years of operation, turned in its racing license.

The non-profit VEA united four longstanding equine groups: the Virginia Gold Cup Association (VGA), Virginia Harness Horse Association (VHHA), Virginia Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association (VHBPA), and Virginia Thoroughbred Association (VTA).

These four organizations offer an impressive roster of knowledgeable horsemen with expertise in all facets of the horse industry, as well as serious business acumen. The VEA interim Board includes Dr. Will Allison, ex-MFH, Executive Director Virginia Gold Cup; David Ross, President VHBPA, Wayne Chatfield-Taylor, President VTA; R.C. Dunavant, DVM and former President of VHHA.

They, in turn, appointed Debbie Easter as VEA interim President. Easter is the current Executive Director of the VTA. Her business is Thoroughbred racehorses and she has a lifetime of experience as breeder, owner and bloodstock agent. The VEA interim Executive Director, John (Jeb) Hannum, served as Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association and several years as Racing Commissioner. He’s also a former amateur steeplechase jockey.

“We have a great group of people, but we needed the legislation to go through so that we can do what we’re doing,” said Dr. Allison. “Senator Jill Vogel and Delegate Michael Webert, Magalen Bryant’s grandson, really fought for this. There’s a lot going on and we have a lot of work ahead of us, but we got off to a good start this fall. Racing For Charity in Virginia is going to get bigger and better. Going to the races is a great outing for families and friends, especially when you know you’re helping a local charity.”

In addition to Virginia Downs at Great Meadow, the VEA sponsored three graded turf stakes, at risk to lose their graded status, which ran at Laurel in Maryland on two consecutive Saturdays in September with combined purse money of $800,000. On the second Saturday at Laurel, VEA ran the five Virginia Bred/Sired stakes on the card. Harness racing enjoyed a four-day pari-mutuel meet over two weekends at Oak Ridge Estate in Nelson County, highlighted by the $300,000 Harness Day of Champions for trotters and pacers on October 18. Four flat races, including the Old Dominion Turf Championship (VA Bred/Sired), rounded out the racing action at the International Gold Cup.    

VEA’s vision for 2016 includes more racing, Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds. Board members have been looking for venues suitable for flat and harness racing.

“Racing is good for all of us, but it also has to be good for the communities,” said Debbie Easter. “We’re hoping for eight more race days next year — at Great Meadow, Morven Park, could be at Oak Ridge again where we had four days of harness racing this fall, and the Fairgrounds in Woodstock would work for the Standardbreds, too. We all work together to put on the racing. I would hope that other charities will want to be involved. We hope to do as much as we can for the local communities.”

Last year and again this year, the VEA held a fundraiser event the night before the International Gold Cup. To date, the relatively new non-profit has helped to raise about $150,000, benefitting the Fauquier Free Clinic and Fauquier SPCA.

How it works is simple. The money that the VEA receives from the pari-mutuel wagering through the state is used to fund the racing. To fulfill “Racing for Charity,” VEA turns over to the charity the “front side” of the race meet. “They can sell tickets, parking, admission, tailgates spaces,” said Easter. “Some people might want to attend the racing just to support the charity. We didn’t have a lot of time this fall, but in the future the charity can sell sponsorships.”

There’s a lot of potential for the VEA to take racing in Virginia to a whole new level. Non-profit local charities might want to consider the benefits of Racing For Charity. After all, there’s nothing to lose.

For more information, visit: www.virginiaequinealliance.com