No Action on Maryland Dates During Fractious Meeting

The Maryland Racing Commission deferred action Wednesday, Jan. 23, on two crucial issues after representatives of the Maryland horsemen's organization and Maryland Jockey Club clashed, often heatedly, on nearly every point.

"You guys can't agree on anything," said an exasperated Terry Saxon, a member of the commission. "It's amazing."

The monthly commission meetings have become public stages on which the disparate factions of the state's racing industry display their differences and mistrust of one another. But yesterday, for the first time publicly, a fracture appeared on the commission.

After listening to fellow commissioner John Franzone repeatedly side with the horsemen against the management of Pimlico and Laurel Park, the mild-mannered commissioner John P. McDaniel finally cut off Franzone and said pointedly, "Go sit down next to Mr. Wright if you're going to argue that way."

Mr. Wright was Wayne W. Wright, executive secretary of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

All in all, it was an outlandish performance by leaders of a struggling industry looking to lawmakers in Annapolis for financial assistance. Lawmakers have said they need to see one quality within the racing industry before they'll consider helping: Unity.

The two issues in need of resolution were when to cease racing in
Maryland so that thoroughbreds could run at Colonial Downs, MJC's sister track in Virginia, and how to make additional cuts in the stakes program, necessitated by loss of the $10 million purse supplement from the state.

The MJC wants to run in Virginia in June and July. The horsemen want to run there in July and August. Neither side would give in. The commissioners wouldn't even let representatives from Virginia speak.

The MJC proposed cutting about $1 million from spring stakes races at Pimlico. That would raise to about $3.3 million the amount cut from stakes since loss of the purse supplement last summer.

The horsemen want even more cuts in stakes so that purses for non-stakes, the "bread-and-butter" races, can be sustained. The horsemen want the Pimlico Special eliminated for one year. It is one of Maryland's cherished races, one of its three grade I stakes. Its purse last year was $750,000. The MJC proposed cutting it to $600,000 this year.

The race, at any price, is a "luxury we can't afford this year," Wright said. "It's unfortunate. It's uncomfortable. It's distasteful...The money's just not there."

Finally, after futile discussions back and forth, the commissioners deferred action on racing dates and stakes cuts. They implored the horsemen and track management to try one more time to resolve the issues in private -- before the commission's February meeting.

The meeting roared toward conclusion with a near-shouting match between Marty Jacobs, general counsel of the MJC, and the commissioner Franzone about cleanliness at Laurel, especially about a dead bird Franzone said has been lying in the same corner of the clubhouse for at least two months.

Lou Ulman, chairman of the commission, chimed in that the scaffolding surrounding the recently-cracked windows in the Laurel grandstand looks "horrible." He said: "I get nothing but complaints when I'm out there."