A decision by the Maryland Jockey Club to close the barn area at Pimlico Race Course at the end of October and force trainers to move prompted an immediate outcry from horsemen.Lou Raffetto Jr., chief operating officer of the MJC, said the decision was a cost-cutting measure. He said the barns at Pimlico would reopen about March 1, 2002."Last winter at Pimlico there were 350 horses on the grounds," Raffetto said. "To keep a stable open and maintain the track all winter for 350 horses doesn't make economic sense."Raffetto said there are 479 horses at Pimlico now. To make room for them at Bowie and Laurel Park, the MJC's other training centers, Raffetto said he and the racing office would expel some trainers or drastically cut back their stalls.Those would be trainers who have taken advantage of free stabling but haven't run their horses or have continually run them at out-of-state tracks, Raffetto said. The MJC provides stabling as well as such amenities as water, electricity, and manure removal at no cost."All we ask in return is that they support the program," Raffetto said. "I've been saying since the day I came here that people who support the program will be rewarded, and people who don't support the program will have to pay the price."The board of directors of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association voted to oppose the plan."The response was extremely, extremely negative," said Alan Foreman, chief executive officer of the THA.
Valora Testerman has stabled at Pimlico for 20 years, and has 21 horses there. She said she would have more if she could have gotten more stalls, but that her requests for more have been rejected by management."Owners want me to claim horses for them, but I can't because I can't get the stalls," Testerman said. "So now they're going to cut stalls? I don't think there are enough stalls at Bowie and Laurel to support the number of horses who'll need them. I think (management) might be slicing their own throat. They're going to chase away horses who would run here."Raffetto said 725 horses reside at Bowie and 828 at Laurel. The two facilities have about 2,000 stalls, enough to accommodate the horses already in the state, as well as horses that traditionally relocate to Maryland for the winter from Canada and such states as Delaware and New Jersey, he said."We need to get live horses in those stalls," Raffetto said. "We're going to make it work. We're going to make them fit, one way or the other."Richard W. Small and King T. Leatherbury, trainers at Pimlico for 30 and 35 years, respectively, said they agree with management's threatened crackdown on recalcitrant trainers."It's a proper thing to request, that you run your horses here whenever possible, and that you have decent-enough horses to run," Leatherbury said. "Some trainers abuse that. They've been abusing that as long as I've been around. Management should have clamped down on that years ago."Leatherbury said he is down to 10 horses at Pimlico, so that moving to Laurel, where he stables another 20, won't be a major hardship.Small, who manages 14 at Pimlico, said he would take them to his family's farm in Monkton, Md. Small said the main problem with closing the barns now is the short notice. He said he could have obtained stalls at Fair Grounds in New Orleans if he had known of management's intention two months ago."This is typical of things around here," Small said. "It's just ridiculous."Scott Lake, who leads all trainers in the country in wins, stables about 60 horses at Pimlico. He also houses horses in Pennsylvania and New York. He took the closure in stride."I'm sure they'll take pretty good care of me and put me somewhere at Laurel," Lake said.But Mary Eppler, a trainer at Pimlico for 34 years, said moving to Bowie or Laurel could create the ultimate hardship for her.
"It might put me out of business," said Eppler, who trains 34 horses at Pimlico.She said a move would leave her without help. Her nine grooms all live near Pimlico, she said, and only two own cars. Eppler's exercise riders live in northern Baltimore County or Pennsylvania, she said. They have already told her they will not drive to Laurel or Bowie, she said.She said that she would move her horses to the farm she leases in Glyndon, but that the barn at the farm is full. As for her horses, the others at Pimlico and the ones arriving from out of state for the winter, she said: "Where are they going to put everybody?"