Maryland Regulators Demand Unified Racing Plan

by Sandra McKee

Maryland racing commissioner Terry Saxon said Nov. 8 he would make a proposal for the commission to decide Maryland's racing dates, stabling, and expense-sharing issues at the panel's Dec. 13 meeting if a unified plan hasn't been developed by then.

"You've badly bungled the job--dropped the ball," Saxon told racing industry participants during a commission meeting at Laurel Park. "And we're mad as hell."

It was one of several strong statements made by commissioners after Magna Entertainment Corp., the Maryland Horse Breeders, and Maryland Thoroughbred Horseman's Association failed for the second month to reach a compromise agreement on racing dates. The commission did approve a broad-based request by MEC, which operates Laurel and Pimlico Race Course, for 365 days for racing in 2006, but directed the three entities to show up Dec. 13 with specific dates.

The dates crisis was set in motion in September when MEC surprised the racing community with a proposal to cut Maryland's live racing dates from 198 to 112. The proposal included provisions to close the Laurel and Pimlico stable areas for nearly four months, and to close and eventually sell the Bowie Training Center.

During the past month, the sides appeared to be making headway. MEC officials said if everyone could agree on from 170 to 180 live racing days, it would keep all stable areas open throughout 2006. And Alan Foreman, lawyer for the Maryland THA, said his group was ready to finalize an agreement on the Nov. 2.

"It was only when (MEC) introduced expense sharing that it didn't happen," Foreman said.

It was during the Nov. 2 negotiating meeting MEC again surprised the horsemen and breeders by introducing the side issue of an expense contribution agreement that expired in April 2004. MEC wants the horsemen and breeders to contribute toward paying expenses in the future--and retroactively--and have suggested numbers totaling millions of dollars.

"When the agreement expired," said Billy Boniface, president of the Maryland Horse Breeders, "we no longer felt we had to contribute. I sent the Maryland Jockey Club a letter saying as much. I've never heard one more word about expenses--until (the Nov. 2 meeting)."

Commission chairman John McDaniel set a deadline of Dec. 1 for a resolution on the expense-sharing issue, and said if it wasn't done by then, the commission would determine an equitable cost-sharing figure.

"Hopefully, we can behave like grown men and make a deal," said Maryland Jockey Club chief operating officer Lou Raffetto. "If not, the commission will step up and make one for us."