The Maryland Jockey Club and Magna Entertainment Corp., which operates Pimlico and Laurel Park, plans to slash the number of live racing dates in 2006, from roughly 200 in 2004 and 2005 to 112, in an attempt to bolster purses and level the playing the field with surrounding Mid-Atlantic tracks that use expanded gaming to increase purses.
The proposed 2006 live racing schedule would contain 94 days of racing at Laurel Park and 18 at Pimlico Race Course. The Laurel winter meet would be conducted over 60 days from Jan. 1 through April 15 with four live racing days per week. A Pimlico Preakness meet would last 18 days, beginning April 21 through Preakness Day (May 20) with four live days per week. The Laurel fall meet would run 34 days from Nov. 3 through Dec. 30 with four live racing days per week.
The MJC is estimating $34 million would be available for purses in 2006 with a total daily purse distribution of $303,571. In 2005, $38 million was available to purses, with average daily purses averaging $193,877.
According to a statement released Wednesday by the MJC, in 2004 the MJC generated earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $7.9 million on Preakness Day, but generated only $4.1 million the entire year. The remaining 364 days of 2004, the MJC business operation lost $3.8 million.
"Under these circumstances, continuing to do business as usual is not an option, and attempting to do so would be foolish and irresponsible," according to the statement.
The statement also said cutting the number of live racing dates allows for purses at Laurel and Pimlico to become at least competitive with Delaware Park, Monmouth Park, and the West Virginia racetracks (Charles Town and Mountaineer), and will be within sight of the enhanced purse levels at Philadelphia Park and Penn National once those Pennsylvania racetracks commence VLT operations.
"We simply must improve the quality of our live racing product," said Lou Raffetto, chief operating officer of MJC. "The new turf course at Laurel will help, but we must also raise our purses to levels that are reasonably competitive within the Mid-Atlantic region and that will not be completely dwarfed by Pennsylvania's once Philadelphia Park and Penn National begin their VLT operations.
"While we regret that our horsemen will now have to travel more than in the past, our plan is designed to allow for our horsemen to maximize their earning opportunities by capitalizing on the fullest possible range of options in the Mid-Atlantic region during that portion of the year when we will not be offering live racing at Laurel or Pimlico."
Also in 2006, the statement also said, MJC and MEC will seek legislation allowing the Bowie Training Center to be closed permanently.
In the event that such legislation is passed, MEC will sell the land upon which Bowie Training Center now sits and commit to spend no less than 50% of whatever proceeds are generated by the sale for physical improvements and new stall construction in the stable area at Laurel. MEC plans to add 200 new stalls, at a cost of roughly $4 million, to the Laurel stable area by the time its scheduled to reopen Sept. 23.