Maryland Panel Upholds Live Racing Contract

The Maryland Racing Commission upheld the live racing contract between the state horsemen's organization and the Maryland Jockey Club Oct. 6 after Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns the MJC, proposed slashing the number of live racing dates at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course in 2006.

The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and the tracks are operating under a contract that was signed in February 2002 and continues through Belmont Stakes (gr. I) day in 2006.

In the decision to uphold the contract and delay taking action on the proposed 2006 racing schedule, racing commission chairman Thomas McDonough cited the legal interruption of the contract. He said the MJC is legally contracted to run live racing five days per week during the first five months of 2006.

"Your proposal suggests or comprehends four days of racing, and as such I don't think the commission is going to accept the proposal as it's written," McDonough said. "What we urge is a meeting and agreement between Magna and the horsemen. I know that sounds like a pipe dream, and maybe it is, but it's the decision of the commission that the Maryland Jockey Club is bound to race five days per week of live racing from Jan. 1 through June."

MEC had proposed to conduct 129 days of racing four days per week, with 60 days of live racing and 45 days of simulcasting only at Laurel during the winter meet Jan. 1-April 16. Pimlico would offer 26 days of live racing beginning April 17, and simulcasting only through Oct. 1. The Laurel summer/fall meet would be conducted from Oct. 2-Dec. 31, with 43 days of live racing and 46 days of simulcasting.

"The revised schedule that was submitted earlier this week basically represents our modifications based upon input received from members of the commission as well as other members of the industry after the announcement last month of our original 112-day plan," MJC president Joe DeFrancis said. "The original proposal represented our best attempt to come up with a schedule that would best allow us to meet the competition that we are facing both locally and regionally and allow us to be in a position where we could have some chance of surviving."

The original MEC proposal called for 94 days of racing at Laurel and Pimlico. The Laurel winter meet would have been 60 days from Jan. 1-April 15, with four live racing days per week. A Pimlico "Preakness" meet would have ran 18 days from April 21 through Preakness Stakes (gr. I) day May 20, with four live racing days per week. The Laurel fall meet would have been conducted for 34 days from Nov. 3-Dec-30, also with live racing four days per week.

The cut in the number of live racing days, MEC said, would have allowed for average daily purses of $304,000, an increase from the current figure of $194,000. The two tracks race about 200 live days per year.

McDonough urged the two groups to work together to submit another proposal "that both parties could live with."

After the meeting, DeFrancis, disappointed with the commission's interruption of the contract, said he plans for move forward and work with members of the horsemen's organization to have a proposal ready for submission by the next commission meeting in November.