Strawberry Hill becomes a battleground

The track at Colonial Downs

The track at Colonial Downs in New Kent. (Photo by John Athayde via Flickr)

The new owners of a popular Richmond horse-racing event have taken their beef with a local track to federal court.

Christie Harrell and Mildred Dotson, the mother/daughter team who in May bought the rights to the Strawberry Hill Races, in November sued Colonial Downs and various affiliates of the New Kent track, claiming trademark infringement, unfair competition and false advertising.

Strawberry Hill lawsuit

Click this image to read the lawsuit.

The 21-page lawsuit alleges that Colonial Holdings Inc., Colonial Downs LP, Stansley Racing Corp. and Colonial Downs LLC in June held a racing event allegedly advertised as and claiming to be the Strawberry Hill Races, just weeks after Harrell and Dotson bought the name and trademarks of Strawberry Hill Races at auction.

Harrell and Dotson claim Colonial Downs and the other defendants “purposefully engaged in using a trademark that is identical to and confusingly similar to plaintiff’s trademark” and did so with “blatant disregard” for the intellectual property the pair purchased in May.

“This case alleges a straightforward yet egregious claim of trademark infringement,” the case states.

The case claims that Colonial Downs used the Strawberry Hill Races name to falsely convey that it was the official organizer of the event.

An annual event traditionally held in April, the Strawberry Hill Races date to 1895. The event was held for decades on a farm called Strawberry Hill before moving in 2000 to Colonial Downs.

The nonprofit organization that previously owned the State Fair of Virginia also owned and ran the Strawberry Hill Races until it went down in a massive bankruptcy this year. The fair’s lenders then liquidated its assets and intellectual property, including the ownership rights to the Strawberry Hill Races.

Harrell and Dotson bought the rights at auction for $30,000. Their purchase included rights to the Strawberry Hill Races name, its registered trademarks and its website.

During its bankruptcy process, State Fair of Virginia in January, according to the suit, entered into an agreement with Colonial Holdings to hold the Strawberry Hill Races in early June.

But that agreement was terminated after lenders took over the State Fair of Virginia’s assets, the suit claims. The State Fair of Virginia and Colonial Downs briefly tried to negotiate a temporary license to use the Strawberry Hill trademarks, but no such agreement was ever reached, the suit says.

“Defendants never reacquired the right to use the mark to organize and hold racing events,” the suit claims, saying Colonial Downs and its related entities continued to market the Strawberry Hill Races in anticipation of an event in June.

Harrell and Dotson sent a cease-and-desist letter to Colonial Downs in late May. That letter was ignored, the suit claims, and Colonial Downs held the event June 2.

What’s left, according to the suit, is alleged confusion among consumers and members of the racing industry over who the legitimate owner of the event is.

The suit further alleges that Colonial Downs held a public marketing event this year to publicize that Strawberry Hill Races would next year be held under a new name and set the date of the new race in April. Those alleged actions, the suit claims, have devalued and continue to devalue the intellectual property Harrell and Dotson purchased.

Harrell and Dotson are seeking a jury trial to force Colonial Downs to disgorge any profits it brought in from the June event and other damages. Harrell and Dotson are represented by Washington attorney Michael Leonard, of the firm LeonardPatel.

Leonard declined to comment on the case.

Ian Stewart, president of Colonial Downs, who is mentioned in the suit but not named as a defendant, said he would not comment on ongoing litigation.

Colonial Downs is represented by Jim Weinberg, an attorney with Hirschler Fleischer.

Colonial Downs’ response to the suit is due next week.

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