Despite a threatened boycott by horseman and the possibility a number of jockeys will not ride until the horsemen's dispute is settled, the Charles Town Turf Club will reopen thoroughbred racing in West Virginia's eastern panhandle tonight, weather permitting. Post time is 7:15.
Negotiations between representatives of the Kenton Corp., which owns the track, and the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents 1,800 owners and trainers, recessed yesterday without an agreement on the major issue -- straw versus sawdust bedding.
Track management, according to spokesman Bill McDonald, wants the horsemen to use straw because, in combination with manure, it is more readily marketable to mushroom growers, who pay about $250,000 annually to the track for the material.
McDonald said the mushroom farmers will not accept manure that contains 50 percent or more sawdust in it.
The track claims the conversion would cost the horsemen at most an extra $222,000; the horsemen say the cost would be $700,000 to $800,000.
The track has purchased 1,600 bales of straw at $2 per bale to place in each stall in the stable area, in effect giving a free bale of straw as a first step toward the conversion from sawdust.
Alvin S. Trenk, chairman of the board of Shenendoah Corporation, which operates the track, has asked that horsemen agree to the use of straw bedding in order to keep talks moving.
"Once that is done," Trenk said, "we can continue our negotiations in good faith while we see what straw bedding really means to everyone."
McDonald said track management is hopeful the HPBA bargaining committee will allow the track management to present its position to the entire HPBA membership at a meeting this morning. Four days ago, the track said the straw issue was not negotiable. Yesterday, McDonald said the track would discuss a straw subsidy with the horsemen.
Tonight's nine-race card -- one race less than a normal Friday night card -- drew 63 horses, including a four-horse field in the feature. Saturday's card, for which entries closed at 3 p.m. yesterday, drew 56 horses for nine races.
According to Fendall Clagett, spokesman for the HBPA, tonight's entries include 23 horses shipped in and 41 others stabled at Charles Town. Of those 41, Clagett said 21 were entered by three trainers, all of whom live in the Charles Town area.
Clagett also said he understood that a number of jockeys who normally ride at Charles Town would support the HPBA by not riding until the dispute is settled.
Richard Young, Eastern manager for the Jockeys Guild, said: "The official position of the Guild is that it's a dispute between horsemen and management."
Young said 35 jockeys attended a meeting yesterday. According to Young, "The majority seem to be leaning toward the horsemen and are not likely to be on tomorrow's card or any other until the dispute is solved."
McDonald said track management had not been told of any jockey boycott and was "investigating the situation."
Before yesterday's bargaining session, Charles Town management geared for the possibility of attracting horses from other sources if the horsemen's boycott continued.
Charges will be paid by the track for all horses shipped in. This could range from $100 to $200 per horse, sources said.
The track also announced it would pay the jockey fees of all but first-place mounts. A jockey finishing out of the money for a $1,900 purse, Charles Town's smallest, receives $30.
In addition, management told horsemen stabled at the track any horses shipped elsewhere in support of the boycott will not be allowed to return to the grounds.
Gov. Jay Rockefeller, who helped negotiate a plan so the track, which had been threatened with permanent closing, could reopen, is expected to attend the opening.
Clagett said members of his group plan to mingle in the crowd, wearing patches that will say something like, "Guv, Help Us Like You Helped Them."