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Morven Park Eyes Return Of Flat Racing

© Leesburg Today - 07/27/2015

The Westmoreland Davis Memorial Foundation board of trustees is contemplating a return of the once-popular racing schedule at Morven Park.

The estate has been a center for equestrian activities since the 1800s, and steeplechase racing was an October staple at Morven Park from 1979 until 2011, when the races were abandoned.

The trustees, during their July 13 board meeting, authorized Executive Director Frank Milligan and his staff to enter into negotiations with the Virginia Equine Alliance with the prospect of staging flat races at Morven Park.

Noting previous racing had been predominantly steeplechase races, Milligan said, if agreement is reached between the two groups, it would be for flat racing only.

""This would be different. We would no longer run the races. It would be more of a leasing arrangement,"" he said.

A draft agreement was presented to the trustees during the July meeting, Milligan said. He said the board has two main concerns-to ease into the arrangement in a way that the facilities can be upgraded and maintained and to mesh the racing calendar with Morven Park's existing equestrian events schedule.

""We operate over 40 equestrian events each year, and we don't want to dislodge people who've been doing things here for a long time,"" Milligan said.

Director of Development and Communications Suzanne Musgrave echoed Milligan's sentiments.

""We have one of the largest three-day events here. We wouldn't jeopardize that,"" Musgrave said. Morven Park also has what Musgrave described as ""one of the best [racing] tracks in the state.""

""I'm so pleased someone will be using it,"" she said, adding this would be Morven Park's ""first foray into solely turf racing.""

Negotiations are ongoing and VEA representatives will be at Morven Park next week to meet the staff, Milligan said.

The Virginia Equine Alliance is a cooperative effort between four organizations: Virginia Gold Cup Association; Virginia Thoroughbred Association; Virginia Harness Horse association; and Virginia Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association.

The VEA is dedicated to promoting, sustaining and expanding Thoroughbred and standard-bred racing and breeding in Virginia, according to its mission statement.

VEA Executive Director Jeb Hannum had previously confirmed the negotiations between the two groups with a view to establishing a roster of flat races at Morven Park.

""We've been in negotiations for the past few months, but we're still working through it. We don't have a contract with Morven Park, and there are all sorts of things that need to happen for there to be a deal,"" Hannum said today.

""Our main thing is to bring the course up to standard-make the investments in it to make it the highest standard of racing,"" Hannum said, ticking off needs to upgrade the race stand, fix the fence and improve the turf and the paddock.

He also noted the need to work around Morven Park's existing events scheduled. ""We need to make sure we have our racing schedule complement their existing schedule, and partner with them. We are the guest at their facility,"" Hannum said.

Finding new venues for racing in Virginia is partially the outcome of the closing of the Colonial Downs Racetrack late last year.

All equestrian groups were affected by its loss, Hannum said, noting the subsequent establishment of the VEA, with one of its goals being to keep racing going in Virginia in some form.

Morven Park would not be the only added venue as Great Meadow in The Plains also is adding a significant flat racing component to its schedule.

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