Virginia Plan Irks Maryland Commissioner

The Colonial Downs Thoroughbred meet concluded in early August, but already there's trouble in Maryland over next year's dates.

At the Aug. 30 Maryland Racing Commission meeting at Ocean Downs, commissioner Terry Saxon erupted in anger over a letter from Colonial Downs president Ian Stewart in regard to the Virginia track's 2001 meet.

The letter said Colonial Downs planned on applying for 26 days of Thoroughbred racing next year from early- or mid-June to mid- or late-July. The letter stated that the early application was necessitated by a Sept. 1 deadline set by Virginia law, and that Colonial Downs would not finalize dates until it gets input from racing leaders in Maryland and Virginia.

Still, the letter infuriated Saxon, who apparently interpreted it this way: Virginia is trying to dictate to Maryland when Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course race live. Saxon resurrected the familiar phrase that it's a case of the tail wagging the dog.

"I'll be damned if I'm going to treat them as equals," Saxon said.

Joe De Francis, president and chief executive officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, tried to calm Saxon by saying Colonial Downs was merely meeting its Sept. 1 deadline, and that the June-July date application was "meaningless." The MJC manages racing at Colonial Downs, and halts its racing at Pimlico and Laurel during Virginia's short meet.

Maryland commissioners and leaders of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which represents trainers and owners, agreed to meet with Virginia racing leaders this fall and discuss dates for next year. No Virginia representatives attended the meeting.