by John Scheinman
The Maryland Jockey Club Feb. 1 submitted a preliminary capital improvement plan for upgrades at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course to the Maryland Racing Commission and Maryland Department of Budget & Management.
The operating arm of The Stronach Group, which owns the tracks, had to meet the Feb. 1 deadline to present the plan in order to realize 50% matching funds from the Racetrack Facility Renewal Account, which receives funding from state video lottery terminal revenue.
All Thoroughbred and harness track owners in the state, including the state fair at Timonium, which runs a short summer Thoroughbred meet, had to meet the deadline.
While a copy of the plan could not be obtained, MJC president Tom Chuckas said the short-term focus of the plan is the construction of 150 stalls on the grounds of Laurel this year, followed by 150 more in 2014. The MJC also will construct 200 stalls at Pimlico as well as approximately 130 dormitories to accommodate incoming track workers, he said.
The plan submission follows the signing of a comprehensive 10-year deal in December that promised stability to the struggling Maryland racing program, guaranteeing the MJC will conduct 146 days of live racing this year and a minimum of 100 live days in each of the subsequent nine years.
"We negotiated for almost a year on the 10-year agreement; that was the focus," Chuckas said. "When you take a look at this, for the company to invest in Laurel and Pimlico, the 10-year commitment was imperative."
Language in a state gaming expansion bill passed last year left parameters of the capital improvement submission largely open-ended, calling only for "a description of the racing licensee's planned capital improvements, a preliminary project schedule, and an estimate of the funding to be requested from the (a)ccount."
The total cost of the stall and dorm projects will be approximately $30 million, split between the two tracks, Chuckas said.
While management recognizes the need for extensive improvements to the aging facilities, undertaking the barn projects first was imperative as part of an agreement to allow for the closing of the Bowie Training Center, Chuckas said. The MJC has long sought to close Bowie, which costs $2 million a year to operate, and relocate horsemen.
"The Stronach Group and Maryland Jockey Club recognize both facilities need substantial improvements," Chuckas said of Laurel and Pimlico. "We're in the process of reviewing both facilities in an effort to create a plan that benefits all parties, particularly our customers, and we want to get it right."
Chuckas said the MJC provided "conceptual thoughts" for the long-term that would be detailed in the next 12 to 14 months. No substantial capital improvements will be made to Pimlico in time for the 2013 Preakness Stakes (gr. I). As for the following year, Chuckas said, "I'll have a better idea of that in the coming months."