Laurel Park Project to Force Relocation of Horses

The Maryland Racing Commission June 8 narrowly gave the go-ahead to Magna Entertainment Corp., parent company of the Maryland Jockey Club, to begin rebuilding the turf and dirt tracks at Laurel Park despite strong objections by horsemen.

The $10-million project involves rebuilding and widening the turf and dirt racing surfaces, removing one corner of the clubhouse, and relocating the paddock. The commission voted 4-3 to allow the project to begin, even though MEC officials said they had obtained only one of four permits.

Laurel will close for training June 14, and most horses, trainers, and their employees will be relocated to Pimlico Race Course, the Bowie Training Center, and Timonium. Dale Capuano, a Laurel-based trainer and member of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said the logistics of moving entire operations on such short notice are a "nightmare."

Meanwhile, Rosecroft Raceway is on the verge of going out of business, track chief executive officer Tom Chuckas Jr. told the commission.The harness track has asked for the right to offer simulcasting of Thoroughbred races at Rosecroft without compensating the state's Thoroughbred interests.

A pact between the MJC and Rosecroft expired earlier this year. (The two parties had a revenue-sharing agreement.) Rosecroft no longer simulcasts Thoroughbred racing, and MJC tracks no longer are open for evening simulcasting.

Rosecroft filed an emergency request with the commission for the 90-day right to show and take bets on Thoroughbred races from outside Maryland. Chuckas said if Rosecroft didn't receive some significant relief, "We're done. We're closed. We're finished."

Thoroughbred horsemen and breeders and the MJC opposed Rosecroft's request for cross-breed simulcasting. The commission said it would take up the issue again the week of June 14.