Maryland Horsemen Seek To Block MJC Simulcasts

Maryland Horsemen Seek To Block MJC Simulcasts
Photo: Associated Press
Winter closure would send some Pimlico backstretch workers to other tracks and leave many unemployed.
In the continuing dispute over the Maryland Jockey Club's closing of the Pimlico stables for the winter, the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association has voted to try to stop the MJC from simulcasting out-of-state races.

The MTHA board of directors took the 11-1 vote Wednesday night and informed the MJC Thursday in a letter. The cessation in simulcasting would begin Nov. 30, the day after the MJC plans to close the Pimlico barns for three months.

If the horsemen's association is successful in stopping the simulcasting, then it would likely cripple the racing industry in the state. About 70 percent of money wagered at the tracks and off-track-betting sites is on out-of-state races.

The horsemen are angry over the MJC's closing of the Pimlico stables. The MJC has said that would save $600,000 to $700,000, but trainers and backstretch workers would be forced to relocate temporarily to Laurel Park, the Bowie Training Center or private farms. The horsemen's leadership said that would be a hardship for many trainers and backstretch workers, causing some to lose their jobs.

In addition, horsemen are angry over the Maryland Racing Commission's decision Tuesday not to intervene in the Pimlico dispute. After hearing testimony from horsemen at its meeting last month, the commission did not allow additional testimony Tuesday. Horsemen left the meeting livid.

"It's the culmination of frustration by horsemen in dealing with the Maryland Jockey Club and the refusal of the Maryland Racing Commission even to entertain the issue of the Pimlico closing," said Alan Foreman, lawyer of the horsemen's group. "The power play at the racing-commission meeting was the last straw. That was like an earthquake.

"We have angry owners. We have angry trainers. We have angry backstretch personnel. And we're dealing with a monopoly in racetrack ownership in this state. ... There's no place for the horsemen to turn."

Lou Raffetto Jr., chief operating officer of the MJC, reacted with indignation to the horsemen's threat. He said their problem seemed to be mainly with the racing commission, not with track management.

"I can't believe, just because they didn't get what they wanted, that they would jeopardize the whole racing program," Raffetto said. "Why take such an outrageous step? It's like the spoiled kid taking his bat and ball and going home because he didn't get his way."

Raffetto also disputed the horsemen's ability to stop the tracks from offering betting on out-of-state races. He said their rights were limited to approving or disapproving the sending out of Maryland's races to tracks in other states.

Foreman, the horsemen's lawyer, said Raffetto was wrong. Foreman said state and federal law gave the horsemen veto power over simulcast races coming in or going out of MJC facilities. He said he expected the MJC to fight the horsemen tooth and nail, possibly even in court.

"I expect them to throw everything at us but the kitchen sink," Foreman said. "That just underscores their arrogance."

Foreman said representatives of the horsemen's association would like to meet with track management to try to resolve their differences. Raffetto responded: "The door's always open."

Tom McDonough, chairman of the racing commission, said that if a majority of the commissioners wanted to hold a special meeting or to revisit the Pimlico issue in some other way, then he would accommodate them. He said he would be willing to try to help resolve the dispute before the Nov. 30 cutoff.

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