Financial losses prompt state racing commission to act

April 17, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

Not since harness operator Mark Vogel filed for bankruptcy and his tracks, Rosecroft and Delmarva raceways, were put up for sale in 1991, has the Maryland Racing Commission taken such an activist role in management of the state's racetracks.

"Pro-active" is the new buzzword connected with the commission's actions toward Pimlico/Laurel owners, who lost a record $7.3 million in 1993 and have been criticized for sloppy management.

In 1991, a commission-appointed trustee, Jim Murphy, who is general manager of Sam Houston Park that opens in Texas in two weeks, was put in charge of running Rosecroft/Delmarva until a buyer, Colt Enterprises, was found.

Now the commission is stepping in on the thoroughbred side and appointing a number of subcommittees to oversee Pimlico/Laurel operations and to make suggestions on how the tracks should be run.

The first subcommittee on finances, chaired by former commission chairman John H. "Jack" Mosner Jr., filed its report last week and made some unprecedented demands. The board not only wants monthly financial statements from the tracks but also a complete business plan submitted to the panel by the end of June. The commission went so far as to say what it wants addressed in the document -- a budget, structural organization of the association, the tracks' plans for off-track betting expansion, details on what impact a Washington Redskins stadium at Laurel and a possible 4-percent federal tax on wagers would have and proposals concerning the installation of telephone betting systems and a television channel.

Another subcommittee, chaired by board member Allan Levey, is studying whether alternative forms of gaming, such as slot machines or full-scale casinos, should be introduced at the tracks. A third subcommittee, chaired by another former board chairman, Ernest Colvin, meets for the first time in Baltimore tomorrow night to discuss the tracks' approach to public relations and promotion.

In short, the commission is aiming to instill discipline in the Pimlico/Laurel management that it feels is lacking.

But the racetracks are not the only areas of review. A subcommittee chaired by commissioner Frank Hopkins is analyzing the state's breeders' organization. It's looking at how it awards fund money and at the association's high administrative costs.

The board plans to conduct a similar examination of the harness industry.

No matter what develops, however, the handwriting is on the wall for thoroughbred racing in Maryland. The days of 51 weeks of live racing and the year-round operation of three stable areas is over. The Bowie Training Center could be shut down, depending on what happens with Jack Kent Cooke and his proposed rebuilding of Laurel's stable area. And there will be less live racing -- perhaps simulcast-only in January and February or during the dog days of August.

The downsizing that has happened or is happening in other states is catching up to Maryland.

Rosen's proposals

To prominent lawyer and owner-breeder H. Morton Rosen, the thoroughbred industry's doldrums are hardly a surprise. They started with the decline in the breeding industry when federal tax laws changed and people began to curtail owning and breeding horses.

He told the commissioners last week that there are not enough marketing dollars to go around at Pimlico/Laurel to promote four big yearly events -- the Preakness, Pimlico Special, Maryland Million and International Turf Festival. First to be cut on the list? The International.

Rosen, who also is a member of the board's casino gambling subcommittee, said the group needs the state to appropriate between $50,000 and $100,000 to gather information from other jurisdictions concerning the effects of other forms of gambling on racing.

Full speed ahead for Brocco

Randy Winick, trainer of Santa Anita Derby winner Brocco, said his horse has been galloping for three days and is moving fine since he returned to training last week.

The horse was placed on the Vet's List after a California Horse Racing Board veterinarian said the colt was "slightly off" in his right foreleg after the race.

Winick disputed the claim and has said the horse, one of the favorites for the May 7 Kentucky Derby, "is absolutely clean."

Brocco will be flown to Churchill Downs this weekend.

The Ben Cohen Cup

Mosner would like to see a stakes race at Pimlico named in honor of one of the track's former owners, Ben Cohen.

"But don't make it a grass race," Mosner told operator Joe De Francis. "Ben didn't like turf racing."

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