91 trainers boycott Laurel One live race is cut both Thursday, Friday

August 19, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

LAUREL -- Only one of the 92 trainers stabled at Pimlico Race Course entered horses for cards tomorrow and Friday at Laurel Race Course.

But despite the near unanimity of the spirit of the Pimlico horsemen, track operator Joe De Francis said he still plans to shut the stable area at the Baltimore track on Nov. 1.

Trainers at Pimlico voted on Monday to boycott the entry box yesterday at Laurel to protest De Francis' decision. But by and large, they were not supported by their colleagues who have stables at Laurel and Bowie.

The strike by the Pimlico horsemen at the entry box cost Laurel one live race on each of their Thursday and Friday programs. The live race will be substituted tomorrow by a simulcast from Saratoga. The card also is augmented by a previously scheduled simulcast.

"They [the horsemen] didn't have to hit me over the head with a hammer to send me a message," De Francis said. "I understand crystal clear this is going to be a burden for a lot of people. But they also have to understand my back is up against a wall.

"These are tough times and just because Maryland racing has been here since colonial times, people automatically think it's always going to be here. We are fighting to survive, and the sooner everybody realizes this and starts working together, the better off we'll all be.

"Closing Pimlico for training, even for four months, is the last thing I want to do. But it's not exactly a precedent. Before my father [the late Frank De Francis] took over these tracks, one of the mile tracks would be shut for a couple of months while the other ones stayed open.

"It's something I don't want to cram down anyone's throat, and that's why I brought the issue up two months ahead of time. I want to give people time to make plans to move to our other tracks."

Although De Francis called the horsemen's boycott "a knee-jerk, confrontational response," he still plans to hold a previously scheduled meeting with trainers today at 3 p.m. at the conference room in the Pimlico offices.

He hopes trainers such as Bernie Bond, Dick Small, Dick Delp, Frannie Campitelli, Tim Boyce and John DiNatale, who attended a similar meeting with De Francis last Saturday, will attend.

"Other trainers showed up last Saturday and listened too," De Francis said. "I asked them to come back [today] with suggestions about how I could make this move easier. I hope other trainers will talk to these trainers [this morning] and give them specific ideas.

"If I'm the only one that shows up, then I'll go home. If the trainers come and don't have any concrete suggestions, then it's going to be a short meeting. But I want ideas to help people -- one, 10 or 100."

De Francis said he had considered closing down the Bowie Training Center for a short time.

"But it's not feasible," he said. "By state law, we are required to operate Bowie as a training center. Secondly, there are more horses stabled at Bowie. By shutting Pimlico for four months [the track will re-open in mid-March in time for the spring Pimlico meet], it will involve moving less animals."

King Leatherbury, who stables most of his horses at Laurel, but also has 20 horses at Pimlico, questioned the usefulness of the boycott.

"Is this really necessary? Sure, closing Pimlico is an inconvenience and it's going to cost me money to move my second string to Bowie," he said. "But remember, we don't own these stalls. The tracks own them and they are allotted to us. Other than being an inconvenience, I don't see where it's such a big deal."

When Pimlico closes, trainers who live in the northeast part of the state, principally in Baltimore and Harford counties, will not have a convenient track to train their horses this winter. It is xTC ironic because that is where the bulk of Maryland's large thoroughbred establishments are located.

The shutdown also will affect track employees who live in the Baltimore area. They will either have to commute farther to work or re-locate in the Laurel-Bowie area. Short-term housing for employees without cars is one of the biggest concerns for the Pimlico-based trainers.

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