Pimlico to be open this winter De Francis, horsemen agree on training, OTB

October 17, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

LAUREL -- It was a small gesture, executed in good faith.

Track operator Joe De Francis and trainer Jerry Robb, the outspoken horseman who is one of De Francis' severest critics, smiled, shook hands and brought to a close an argument that had festered and been played out in the press for over a week.

Surrounded by trainers, owners and reporters, De Francis announced in an impromptu briefing in the press box at Laurel Race Course yesterday that he and the board of directors of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association had resolved three major issues that had brought turmoil and caused great concern in recent months to the state's racing industry.

De Francis and the MTHA board announced that:

* Pimlico Race Course will stay open for training this winter.

* An agreement had been reached that will allow management to proceed with negotiations for a 90-day experimental inter-track simulcasting deal with Rosecroft Raceway.

* Financial terms had been approved between horsemen and management concerning future off-track betting contracts.

De Francis said that the Pimlico Road side (consisting of 10 barns with approximately 500 stalls) and the track would stay open for training over the winter months. The Hayward Avenue, or old barn, side will be closed, he said, once stall allocations have been made "and we know where everyone wants to be."

Although De Francis and the MTHA board members did not want to disclose particulars, the Rosecroft deal means that if Laurel-Pimlico management loses money during the 90-day simulcast experiment, horsemen will help pay for track losses if they have made a profit from their share of the takeout. At the same time, the track guaranteed there will be no cut in purses if losses occur, and either side can pull the plug on the experiment if it turns out to be a bad deal.

Uncertainty surrounds the issue since no one knows how much business will be siphoned from Laurel if the thoroughbred races are simulcast at Rosecroft, about 30 miles away. In turn, Rosecroft harness races will be simulcast at night either to the Sports Palaces at Pimlico and Laurel or at the Timonium track.

Laurel and Rosecroft managements still have to decide the logistics of the simulcast arrangement, and Rosecroft still has to strike a deal with its horsemen.

Richard Hoffberger, MTHA president, said that the deal "gives Maryland horsemen a larger share of OTB proceeds than other horsemen receive in any other state in the country."

Again, specifics were not discussed since OTB contracts with third-party operators still must be negotiated.

De Francis and horsemen hope the first off-track betting parlors, in Frederick and Hagerstown, will be open by Jan. 1. Parlors in Cecil County and other parts of the Eastern Shore would follow shortly.

The meeting between De Francis and 13 of the 15 members of the MTHA board started at noon in the conference room in Laurel's executive office wing. By 2 p.m., De Francis and the board were in the press box announcing the unanimous decision.

De Francis said that he hoped projected revenues from the Rosecroft inter-track deal and OTB would finance the cost of keeping Pimlico open. De Francis' original announcement in August that he would close the stable area for about four months starting Nov. 1 had prompted a two-day boycott of the entry box by Pimlico horsemen. It aroused intense ill feelings and name-calling by both sides that snow-balled into an MTHA board decision last week in which the MTHA voted, on a motion by Robb, to shut down all simulcasting if Pimlico closed.

De Francis took part of the blame for the situation, saying he needs to do a better job communicating with the horsemen.

"Starting next Saturday, I'm going to initiate a 'backstretch breakfast' program," he said. "I'll be in the track kitchen at 9:30 a.m. at Laurel to listen and meet with all horsemen, grooms, etc. and open a dialogue with them. I want to do the same thing at Bowie and at Pimlico."

De Francis said he will also meet with the full MTHA board more frequently and not let future problems "deteriorate into the sort of situation we recently went through."

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