Racing is coming back to Morven Park. The Virginia Equine Alliance has inked a contract with the Westmoreland Davis Memorial Foundation that will see a season of flat racing at the Leesburg estate beginning next year.
It’s good news for racing fans who were disappointed when Morven Park’s racing program ceased six years ago.
Morven Park’s new executive director, Stephanie Kenyon, said racing is important to the property, calling it “part of the history here.”
The contract calls for both Morven Park and the VEA to make improvements to the one-mile race course and infield. Morven Park is managing the construction, with the VEA helping to pay for the work.
“We submitted all the engineering paperwork to the county last week,” Kenyon said Monday.
The work includes removing undulations on the course to accommodate flat racing. Inside the track, Morven Park will construct two arenas for hunter jumper shows and for dressage.
It will take until next fall for the work to complete and the grass to grow, Kenyon said. “I’m looking forward to it. More people will come here and enjoy a day of racing, tailgating, music, vendors, etc.,” she said.
The contract signing came after a year of negotiations between the VEA and Morven Park, spurred by the 2014 closing of the Colonial Downs racetrack in New Kent County—then the only pari-mutuel betting course in Virginia.
The Virginia Thoroughbred Association, the Virginia Gold Cup Association, Virginia Harness Horsemen’s Association and the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolence and Protective Association joined forces as VEA to identify new race locations, according to VEA President Debbie Easter.
“I’m excited,” she said of the venture Monday. The VEA will lease the race track from Morven Park and be responsible for its upkeep.
“The whole idea of what the alliance is doing is to bring racing back to Virginia,” Easter said. The VEA would run the races and Morven Park could raise money through parking, concession sales and sponsorships.
Kenyon agreed. “That’s one of the reasons why we’re excited. It gives us a nice opportunity to do that,” she said.
“The beauty of this one is Morven Park is an ideal location and it’s a nonprofit in need of funding,” Kenyon said. While the pari-mutuel betting proceeds stay with the state, the nonprofit benefits through vendors, sponsorships and parking fees.
Morven Park COO Sheryl Williams oversees all equestrian operations.
“First off, I’m absolutely thrilled. We’ll be bringing Thoroughbreds back. It fits with our horse trials, and a lot of retired horses go on to other careers,” she said. Morven Park also is strengthening its program of hunter-jumper shows, along with eventing and dressage events.
The VEA is looking at a season of between six to 14 days, and is still working out its calendar to come up with specific days.
“It’s good for us both, and for horseman throughout Virginia as well as racing fans,” Easter said.