The Virginia Gold Cup initiated race-meet pari-mutuel wagering in the Commonwealth with beautiful weather, a capacity crowd, competitive fields, and betting of more than $80,000.
Over six races, the Gold Cup crowd wagered $81,017, and lines were long at the betting machines throughout the afternoon. For the inaugural pari-mutuel venture, betting was limited to the Gold Cup races. The largest handle, $20,466, was on the $75,000 Virginia Gold Cup, won by Michael Wharton’s Grinding Speed at 5-1.
“The wagering was very successful,” said Dr. Will Allison, president and chairman of the Virginia Gold Cup. “All of our betting stations were crowded all day.”
Because of the pari-mutuel wagering, the racing and the betting were under the supervision of the Virginia Racing Commission, which granted the Great Meadow course a license for 2013. The licensing meant new rules on access to the stabling area, and both race officials and horsemen were well briefed on the restrictions. “It worked well,” Dr. Allison said.
Bernard J. Hettel, the Virginia Racing Commission’s executive director, said the day went well. from his perspective. “We were going into the unknown, and I thought it was very successful,” he said. “I was pleased with the crowd, the atmosphere, and the enthusiasm.”
On the busiest betting day in the North America—the Virginia Gold Cup shares the first Saturday of May each year with the Kentucky Derby—experienced pari-mutuel clerks were at a premium, and betting clerks were imported from Lexington, Ky., to man the United Tote machines at 11 betting stations. Hettel said plans are being developed to train 20 or 30 Virginia residents to serve as mutuel clerks. “That would make the experience better,” he said. “Going forward, we might have something like Fair Hill [Maryland’s pari-mutuel steeplechase meet] with a mutuel line.”
Hettel said he believed the inaugural pari-mutuel experience at a race meet produced encouraging results, and the interest in pari-mutuel wagering provided an opportunity for growth. “I think that interest could grow into something substantial,” he said.
Dr. Allison said the initial experience bodes well for Virginia racing and all of steeplechasing. “We hope our experience will be helpful to other race meets,” he said.