Management at Maryland's thoroughbred tracks wants to offer twilight racing this summer, but it's likely the innovation won't see the light of day.
A bill scheduled to go before the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday would change a law that requires thoroughbred racing to end at 6:15 p.m., but leaders in the harness and thoroughbred industry are vehemently opposed to the change.
"There's a de-facto understanding that thoroughbreds race in the day and harness horses at night," said Jim Murphy, trustee of Rosecroft Raceway. "I've heard from many people in the harness industry on this issue, and they're upset and concerned with the possibilities this bill presents. I understand they will use all their resources to prevent its passage."
Murphy expressed doubts about how successful a late-afternoon weekday post time (3 or 3:30) would be for Pimlico, Laurel or Timonium race courses. Twilight racing, which theoretically allows fans employed during daytime hours to wager on more races because of the later post time, has met with mixed results at tracks throughout the country.
A source high in the thoroughbred industry said he doubted that the proposal would pass because "it's under fire from everywhere." Even if the bill passed the legislature, it would meet resistance from thoroughbred horsemen.
Said trainer Jerry Robb, Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association board member and often an outspoken opponent of management: "The fact that they [management] didn't consult horsemen on this is absolutely ridiculous. We're the ones who run. It's our work day they'd be adding five or six hours to. You go to the barn at 6 in the morning, they're not done running until almost 9 at night, and you don't get home until 11."
The current law was enacted in the mid-1980s as a means of protection to the harness industry, which now finds itself perhaps in more trouble than ever. When Freestate Raceway, now defunct, ran head-to-head with nearby Laurel, the 6:15 cut-off avoided a conflict with Freestate's 7:30 post.
Fortunately, no horses or jockeys -- or grooms -- were hurt in the nasty spill in last week's General George Stakes at Laurel.
After Frozen Dew fell at the eighth pole, he tripped Bet the Pot. Collectively, the large crowd gasped.
Seeing his horse go down, groom George Earp immediately went onto the track and tried to wave down Bet the Pot. But the horse continued in a gallop toward the finish line, flattening Earp. The crowd gasped again.
The gelding was quickly caught by an outrider, and Earp was able to lead the horse back to the barn.
When a horse is loose, custom is for people to get in its path and wave their hands; often, the horse will slow or stop. With its adrenaline pumping, though, a loose horse can make things dangerous for its handlers.
It's only a $50,000 race, but next Sunday's Private Terms Stakes
should be an interesting prelude to the Tesio Stakes two weeks afterward. Maryland's top 3-year-olds -- Forry Cow How, Haymaker, Colonel Hill and He Is Risen -- are expected for the 1 1/16-mile race. The latter three are Triple Crown nominees.
The $175,000 Federico Tesio Stakes, Maryland's definitive classics prep, is March 17 at Pimlico Race Course at 1 1/8 miles.
The war of attrition is under way in the Delaware Valley, where Philadelphia Park and Garden State Park have been running head-to-head since Jan. 31.
Through 17 days, the handle at Garden State is down 22 percent (33 percent on-track) from last year. Philadelphia Park did not run at this time last year (the track has since gone to year-round racing), and although most insiders believe the scenario is slightly better than what might have transpired, the worst may be to come -- especially when Delaware Park opens March 16 and competition for horses gets especially fierce.
Wrote Dick Jerardi in the Thoroughbred Times: "All anyone knows for sure is that where there was once more racing than anyone wanted or needed, there is now much more racing than anyone wanted or needed."