Maryland Stable, Simulcast Dispute Resolved

The owners of Pimlico and Laurel Park averted a showdown with horsemen over the possible shutdown of simulcasting by agreeing Wednesday to keep the Pimlico stables open for the winter.

On the second day of negotiations, representatives of the Maryland Jockey Club and its parent company, Magna Entertainment Corp., reached agreement with the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsesmen's Association over an issue that divided the racing industry and threatened to cripple it financially.

The horsemen had threatened to try to stop the tracks from accepting bets on out-of-state races if track management proceeded with plans to close the Pimlico barn area for three months beginning Nov. 29. Betting on out-of-state races shown on television monitors amounts to about 70% of wagering at Pimlico, Laurel Park and off-track-betting sites.

Alan Foreman, attorney for the MTHA, said he saw the agreement as perhaps the beginning of a new era of cooperation between horsemen and track management. Relations between the two have deteriorated dramatically in recent years.

"We agreed to implement a process to assure ongoing dialogue between our two organizations on specific racing issues," Foreman said. "One of the things that came out of this was a joint decision to try to head off disputes before they lead to serious controversies. We have some fairly serious issues we're going to have to deal with, so it was important to get this out of the way as soon as possible."

Foreman said issues included possible cuts to racing purses and further reductions in the stakes program, the pursuit of slot-machine legislation in the upcoming legislative session, and the expiration March 31 of the controversial revenue-sharing agreement with the harness-racing faction at Rosecroft Raceway.

"It doesn't get much tougher than those three issues," Foreman said.

Lou Raffetto Jr., chief operating officer of the MJC, referred to a written statement by the parties that read, in part: "The MTHA, MEC and MJC view the resolution of this controversy as an opportunity to move forward collectively with renewed commitment to focus on the future of Maryland horse racing."

As part of yesterday's agreement, the MJC will issue standards by which stalls will be allocated to trainers. The standards will ensure that trainers stabled at Pimlico, Laurel Park or the Bowie Training Center run their horses in Maryland instead of at out-of-state tracks. Trainers who don't meet the standards will risk losing stalls, which the track provides free.

Meanwhile, at a meeting Wednesday with horsemen at Laurel Park, track officials outlined their plans for rebuilding Laurel's stables and racing surfaces. Plans call for work to begin by the end of the year on barns containing 1,400 stalls in what is now a wooded area across a road from the current stables.

Also, plans call for construction next summer of a new 150-foot-wide turf course and a 1 1/8-mile dirt track at Laurel. A new turf course at Laurel is desperately needed. The current one has such poor drainage that even small amounts of rain force races onto the dirt.

"Everyone agrees, second only to VLT legislation [video-lottery terminals, or slot machines], that the most important thing now is a new turf course at Laurel," Raffetto said.

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