Frank Stronach

Frank Stronach

Anne M. Eberhardt

Stronach Seeks 'Common Ground' in Maryland

MI Developments chairman plans to meet with horsemen on future of Pimlico, Laurel.

The head of the company that co-owns Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park said Dec. 2 that he will try to break the impasse threatening the future of the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) when he travels to Maryland next week.

On Dec. 1, the Maryland Racing Commission rejected a proposal by the partners to run 17 days of live racing at Laurel Park in January followed by 30 days of live racing in April and May at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

The commission and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association want a comprehensive plan for racing in the state going forward. They want the 2011 schedule for live racing to equal or exceed the 146 days scheduled for 2010 at the two tracks.

Failure to reach an agreement could threaten the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of racing's Triple Crown, which is scheduled for May 21. It also threatens track workers' jobs and all off-track betting in the state.

The Preakness generated $79.2 million in wagering this year and has an estimated economic impact of between $40 million and $60 million for Maryland.

``We'll try to find common ground,'' said Frank Stronach, chairman of MI Developments, which operates Laurel Park and Pimlico in partnership with Penn National Gaming.

Reached in Austria, Stronach said, ``I don't have to prove or demonstrate I'm a horseman. It has to be done quickly. I'm going to sit with the horsemen and come up with a model. The present model is broken.''

Live racing in Maryland this year concludes Dec. 18 at Laurel Park. Simulcasting of out-of-state races to the state's tracks and four off-track betting sites ends Dec. 31 if an arrangement for 2011 is not approved by the commission.

Penn National and MI Developments hope to maintain a constructive dialogue and ultimately resolve the issue, Penn National spokesman Eric Schippers said in a statement.

The track owners have said that once Anne Arundel County voters passed a referendum last month authorizing slot machines at a nearby shopping mall, operating live racing in Maryland at a continued financial loss was no longer an option. Before the partnership with Penn National, the tracks' owners had pushed for legalizing slot machines to boost revenue but then were disqualified from bidding by the state after failing to put up the $28.5 million application fee for a slots license.

The racing commission, however, has said the only reason Penn National Gaming partnered with MI Developments was because of the possibility that slots might be approved for Laurel Park.