Reined in: Wasted Wahoos risk Foxfield's license

Foxfield president Benjamin Dick has a problem with a recent Daily Progress headline that reads, "ABC reaches agreement with Foxfield."

"That never happened," says Dick. "We were ordered to do it... What we got was a marching order by King Tut."

The marching order is the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control board of directors' April 15 suspension of Foxfield's license unless the racing association hires one uniformed security officer for every 200 tickets it sells; puts at least 50 officers in the heavy-drinking orange and green sections; pays an $8,000 fine; and addresses all violations of public intoxication, underage drinking, and any other alcohol violations.

Less than two weeks before the April 26 spring races, the ABC board heard Foxfield's appeal to the earlier revocation of its license. Since January, the ABC has put Foxfield's equine sporting event license on probation, has revoked it, and now has it on suspension.

"In 26 years of practicing law, this has been a roller coaster," says Dick.

Foxfield officials say the first condition laid down by the ABC the hiring of extra security guards is easy to do. It's the second part that worries organizers of an event that's become a booze-soaked rite of spring for area college students.

Dick says friends in law enforcement tell him, "You're being programmed to fail." And he wonders if security is supposed to arrest every college student with a beer.

At least he'll be able to get official help with that dilemma.

The one bright spot for Foxfield organizers is that ABC officers are going to be working with the race's security staff to enforce drinking laws for the first time. "I applaud that," says Dick. "It's like a peace pipe has been smoked."

The equestrian event staff had long been irked that ABC officers showed up at the 2002 race but refused to enforce any alcohol violations. Instead, the officers videotaped the event, homing in on suspected drunken attendees, in particular wobbly coeds.

At the hearing, board member Warren Barry, a former state senator, asked if it was true that ABC officers were there and did nothing to enforce the law.

"I felt it was one thing to stand around and take pictures, but we're paid to enforce the law, so I was critical of that," says Barry.

Dick believes Barry had a hand in the ABC's change of heart. And Barry admits the agency was open to criticism from people like his buddy, Sheriff Ed Robb, for not enforcing the law. This year the ABC will have between 40 and 60 officers there.

Barry, too, will be there but not to see the races. "I want to see for myself whether it's as bad as last year.

Many find the ABC suspension baffling. "I don't know what that means," says Foxfield critic Floyd Artrip. "Does it mean they can't sell alcohol?"

Foxfield doesn't sell alcohol, and many have questioned whether it needs an ABC license at all.

And with the various ABC rulings that have been issued this year, "I think it's been hugely confusing for everyone," says Jill Ingram, president of the local Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. "I was surprised when they decided to revoke it."

Ingram is happy with the suspension. "I think Foxfield is going to have to put up a major effort this time," she says.

And Artrip, whose pricey Inglecress subdivision on Barracks Road is traditionally plagued by Foxfield traffic, thinks that not selling general admission tickets at the gate this year will definitely help traffic.

Foxfield has pledged to limit ticket sales to 23,000, a drop from the high of 30,000 in 2001. And perhaps because of the ongoing controversy with the ABC, ticket sales are lower this year. "Costs are going up, and sales are going down," says Dick.

Certainly the heightened enforcement is a turn-off for some revelers. Dick says Foxfield has been getting vitriolic emails from college students who are boycotting the event because it won't be the carefree booze fest of the past.

Will police officers crawling all over Foxfield keep students from getting plowed? "I think it's really hard," says Ingram. "I almost feel bad for [Foxfield]. It's such a large crowd, and if people want to get drunk, I don't know if Foxfield will be able to prevent it."

Last week Dick appeared on WVPT's Current Affairs with Progress reporter Bob Gibson, who'd just returned from the annual Shad Planking in Wakefield, a political mecca. Gibson calls the event "Foxfield without the horses."

Attorney General Jerry Kilgore was among the many soon-to-be candidates pouring beer, and Jack Daniels had a booth there.

That made Dick wonder: Does the Shad Planking have an ABC license?

It does. The Wakefield Ruritans have a banquet special event license, and security is provided by the sheriff and state police, according to ABC spokeswoman Becky Gettings.

"There are no violations against it," she says.

"Maybe we can invite the shad plankers over and Jerry Kilgore to pour beer," cracks Dick. Or maybe he can send the rowdy college students over to the Shad Planking.

 

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