State Hopes to Resolve Maryland Dates Fight

Official says repeat of last year's dispute wasn't expected this year.

The administration of Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is again trying to resolve a racing dates dispute one horsemen’s representative said could “potentially get very ugly.”

O’Malley’s team helped broker at deal at the end of last year that kept Maryland’s 146-days-a-year Thoroughbred racing schedule intact for 2011. Subsequent legislation that shifted revenue from video lottery terminals to racetrack operations was designed to maintain the same schedule in 2012-13.

The Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course, and the Bowie Training Center, informed the Maryland Racing Commission earlier in October it wouldn’t accept the operations funding and that racing 146 days isn’t practical financially.

Laurel runs the bulk of the dates with more than 100 per year. The MJC, now owned by The Stronach Group, hasn’t officially applied for 2012 racing dates.

An offer from the MJC to horsemen to lease Laurel and the training center has been rejected by the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

Joseph Bryce, senior policy and legislative adviser for O’Malley, helped broker the 2011 deal and was recognized for his work during this year’s Alibi Breakfast as part of Preakness week. He confirmed Oct. 26 the administration is again involved in the latest dispute.

“We are definitely still involved in trying to come to an agreement, through (the administration) and the racing commission,” Bryce said. “We did not expect to go through a rerun of last year, which is why we set it up so the money would be available for the 2012 racing year.

“We are meeting with all involved in the hope of settling the 2012 issue and mapping out some longer-term planning for racing in Maryland.”

Maryland THA chief counsel Alan Foreman said he anticipates there will be meetings between now and the next MRC meeting in November.

“We hope to come to some understanding for 2012 (racing dates) and hopefully beyond,” Foreman said, “but it appears to be an unstable situation. It’s a prescription for disaster, and it could potentially get very ugly.”

MJC president Tom Chuckas told The Blood-Horse Oct. 20 the company is “attempting to create a model for financial stability and independence,” which is why it hasn’t accept the VLT revenue that is part of the 2011 legislation. Chuckas also said Frank Stronach, chairman of The Stronach Group, wants to “give horsemen control of their own destiny” by allowing them to lease Laurel and the Bowie Training Center.

Foreman said horsemen did “due diligence” on the offer and wouldn’t pursue the lease arrangement.