Thoroughbred racing in Maryland for 2011 is in limbo after the Maryland Racing Commission Nov. 29 rejected a stop-gap plan submitted by the Maryland Jockey Club and also rejected owner MI Developments’ plan to sell 49% of the MJC to Penn National Gaming Inc.
The situation threatens full-card simulcasts in Maryland in 2011 because they are tied to live racing dates and horsemen’s approval. Laurel Park is approved for live racing through the end of December.
Also, the third Saturday in May in Maryland is reserved for the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), second leg of the Triple Crown, at Pimlico Race Course. The track, however, has no dates for 2011 at this time, leaving the Preakness in jeopardy.
“There is no racing schedule for 2011 in Maryland,” said Alan Foreman, chief executive officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and counsel for the Maryland THA. “We don’t even know who will hold the license. No application for dates has been approved.”
The MJC had floated a plan to close Laurel for live racing in 2011 and race 40 days at Pimlico. However, during the Nov. 29 MRC meeting, the MJC proposed racing 17 days at Laurel in January and 30 at Pimlico in the spring to give all parties time to work out a viable schedule moving forward.
The MRC balked and, according to reports, was strongly supported by horsemen and breeders that attended the meeting. Earlier in November, MID chairman Frank Stronach indicated there would be a regular allotment of dates at the two tracks even though partner PNGI said that wasn’t the case.
MID vice president Mike Rogers told the MRC the parties wanted to "give ourselves a little bit of breathing room. The model is broken, clearly. We can’t keep losing money, so we’re hoping to give us a little bit of breathing room, to sit down with all of the stakeholders, this commission, and the horsemen, and come up with a longer-term plan that will have racing in Maryland viable for the year-round."
Rogers told the racing commission MID is committed to Maryland racing but not under the current economic model.
Said Steve Snyder, PNGI vice president of corporate development: "We are sensitive and appreciate the emotion; appreciate the passion. We share that passion because that is the heritage of our company going back to the early 1970s. We are anxious to roll up our sleeves and come up with a long-term, viable plan for racing in the state of Maryland."
In the end, regulators, horsemen, and breeders said the stop-gap plan isn't viable.
“Maryland racing is now owned by a dysfunctional entity that can’t make decisions,” Foreman said. “We’re not going to stand for it anymore. (The MJC plan) was totally unacceptable to horsemen. They understand they may be shut out, but there has never been a greater show of unanimity.”
The MJC devised the Laurel closure plan in October pending the result of a November election in Anne Arundel County, where the track is located, as to zoning for a slot machine parlor at the nearby Arundel Mills Mall. Voters backed the mall plan, dooming slots at Laurel unless changes in the original slots law are made.
Laurel had the fast track for a slots parlor but lost its chance when Magna Entertainment Corp., later purchased by MID, failed to submit a license fee with its application.
PNGI earlier this year announced plans to purchase 49% of the MJC. The Pennsylvania-based company operates the only slots parlor in Maryland and two racetrack casinos in neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The MJC is next scheduled to meet Dec. 21. Foreman said that’s too late for horsemen to decide whether to stay in Maryland or leave the state to race elsewhere in 2011. About 1,500 racehorses call Maryland home.
Nothing, Foreman said, will be decided on dates until a decision is made on the ownership of Laurel and Pimlico, as well as the Bowie Training Center.