Money and contract disputes between the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and the management of Charles Town Turf Club have jeopardized Friday's reopening.
"They (Charles Town's management) say they will race turtles if they have to, and they probably will have to do just that," said Fendall Clagett, who unsuccessfully has tried to negotiate a contract between the HBPA, which he represents, and the Kenton Crop., which owns Charles Town.
"I feel more certain than ever that the horsemen are unanimous not to enter Friday's races," Clagett said. "The track might come up with some entries but it would only be a token three-or four-horse field for each race."
"Well, if we had just a four-horse field, I don't know if we could run," said Bill McDonald, Charles Town's director of public relations. "But I'm betting that not enough horsemen back Clagett to stop us from having a full card."
The HBPA, which represents owners and trainers, voted 18-0 on Feb. 2 not to race until a contract for 1979 had been signed. The association's last agreement with Kenton expired in 1975.
"We have to get a dialogue started," said McDonald. "I think some moves will probably start tomorrow (Monday). The only thing that isn't negotiable is the straw issue."
One of the main disputes between management and horsemen is over the use of sawdust versus straw for horse bedding. Kenton wants straw used while the HBPA wants to continue using sawdust, which the horsemen claim is $600,000 a year cheaper.
"Kenton has issued an ultimatum to use straw or stay off the grounds," said Clagett.
"Primarily, though, we just don't want to race without a contract," said Clagett. "We just want to guarantee the status quo."
"That issue (straw or sawdust) is not in the old contract and never has been," said McDonald. "Charles Town is the only track in the United States that uses sawdust bedding instead of straw. It's a custom unique to this track.
"The track could sell the used straw bedding to mushroom farmers for fertilizer and make about $250,000 a year off it. That would have more than offset our financial losses if we'd used straw last year."
Kenton had announced last month that it would close the track because of last year's financial losses of $250,000 and a projected deficit of $750,000 this year. An agreement was worked out between the state and company to reopen the track.
According to Clagett, another disputed point is the purse money horsemen sometimes let remain in an account at the track. The HBPA wants those funds kept separate from the track's general funds and interest earned added to the purses.
'Interest that the track makes from those accounts has to be applied to the purse structure," said Clagett.
McDonald said, "It has been a verbal agreement that the interest does show up in the purse structure."
The HBPA, which represents about 1,800 owners and trainers in the state, will hold a general meeting today in Charles Town to consider entering horses in Friday's program. A vote likely will be taken, but HBPA members would not be bound by it.
"They are independent horsemen; some might show to enter," said Clagett.
In another matter concerning the track, a citizens group opposed to attempts by Kenton Corp. to legalize Sunday racing held a meeting Saturday night attended by an estimated 200 persons.