Maryland Dates Meeting May Be 'Bloodbath'

On the record, they say it will be "contentious." Off the record, they say it may be a "bloodbath."

On Wednesday, representatives of the Maryland Jockey Club will ask the state's racing commission for permission to cease racing at Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park for parts of June and July so that Thoroughbreds can race at Colonial Downs.

Situated in southern Virginia, Colonial Downs has set its meet from June 9 to July 14. Because the Maryland Jockey Club manages racing at Colonial Downs, it wants to shut down racing for those five weeks.

The board of directors of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association has voted to oppose that schedule. Instead, the Maryland THA wants to preserve summer racing in Maryland and race this fall at Colonial Downs. Since it opened in 1997, Colonial Downs has run its Thoroughbred meet in the fall.

John Franzone, chairman of the racing commission, told officials of the MJC and the MTHA at a meeting last fall to settle their differences in
private. But meetings between the two sides have failed to produce an agreement.

"There has been no change in anybody's position," said Alan Foreman, counsel to the Maryland THA.

After consulting with their Maryland counterparts, leaders of Virginia racing received the go-ahead from their commission to run in the summer. They want to avoid competition in the fall from NASCAR, college football, and other events, and to capitalize on summer tourism. The track is located about 20 miles from Colonial Williamsburg.

The meet would be shorter than last year's, despite pressure from Virginia racing commissioners and legislators to increase racing days. A
task force representing various segments of racing in Maryland and Virginia agreed to run only 25 days (compared to 32 days last year) and hike purses to $200,000 per day.

According to Anne Poulson, who heads the task force, a $2.3-million loan to help fund the $5 million in purses has been secured. The only unresolved issue is a minor one, she said -- putting up collateral.

"We feel comfortable on the financial end," Poulson said.

Now, she said, all that's lacking is support from the MTHA. She said everyone else seems to support at least trying the summer meet.

MJC president Joe De Francis said he believes running in Virginia in the summer is "a good compromise and a good experiment."

Said Franzone, head of the racing commission: "We're prepared to hear the arguments. The MTHA is going to go after it with all they've got, in their words."

After Wednesday's regular monthly meeting, the commission will reconvene its hearing to determine whether to issue a license to build a track in western Maryland. The commission has set aside three days to complete the hearing.