New schedule considered to offset slots

ON HORSE RACING

February 11, 1996|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Joe De Francis is considering an unbalanced schedule to counteract the growing power of slot-machine revenue in Delaware.

"We are analyzing our racing dates through the end of the year and talking about emergency plans about how to deal with this situation," said the Maryland Jockey Club president.

"In order to balance out our purse accounts, we may have to run fewer days in the second half of the year. It is critically important to keep our purses higher than Delaware's."

Buffered by slots and increased simulcast intake, Delaware Park is expected to mount a serious challenge to Maryland's thoroughbred industry when it opens April 13.

The dates run head-on into the centerpiece of Pimlico Race Course's year, the spring meeting featuring the Preakness and Pimlico Special.

De Francis wants to keep purses -- and purse bonuses -- at a

high level for that meeting, which early on has trouble attracting sufficient numbers of horses.

Delaware's intake after six weeks is "worse for us than we envisioned, worse than the worst-case scenario," he said. "There is a serious urgency in this situation."

He took his case to the state legislature last week but scrapped all hopes of obtaining direct state aid when he ran into a stone wall.

Now, the only salvation appears to be installation of slots at the Maryland tracks, a measure the governor has opposed for this year.

"The plans [renovations] for Pimlico now boil down to slot machines," said De Francis. "If we're going to have any opportunity to do that, we have to generate the revenues from slots."

Legislators are playing a wait-and-see game on the Delaware situation. De Francis already sees intruders at his gates.

"All the policy-makers seem to want 18 months to generate more data," he said. "But there is no need to wait. The urgency is here now."

Bowie's future

De Francis is obligated by law to keep the Bowie Training Center open, but he is considering closure as one of his options.

"That's no more than a possibility right now. It's certainly not something we want to do," he said. "But in future we may need to find ways to conserve."

The Racing Reform Act asks for a number of revisions to eliminate regulations that were enacted 40 years ago when racing had a virtual monopoly on legalized gambling.

Included is the transfer to the state from the tracks of $1.4 million in expenses to pay various employees and to pay for the operation of the chemical testing laboratory.

"In those days, racing had a monopoly. Now the state is a competitor [with lotteries]," De Francis said.

Rosecroft horse shortage

Dover Downs president Dennis McGlynn said his track is not knowingly trying to siphon horses from Rosecroft Raceway.

"Our commitment here is to share with those who have supported us when times weren't so good," said McGlynn. "We're not looking to take outside horses, but to increase purses for horsemen who have been racing here a long time."

Rosecroft has been facing a shortage because Delaware and Eastern Shore horsemen who previously would cross the Chesapeake Bay for higher potential earnings are now staying home and because the harsh January weather curtailed training for many horses.

Dover Downs purses have risen sharply since slot machines were installed there in late December.

Racing commission meeting

An extensive agenda will be facing the Maryland Racing Commission at Timonium on Wednesday, when it conducts its first public meeting since mid-December.

January's forum was canceled because of the blizzard.

Executive secretary Ken Schertle said the commission has "a good many items" to address, including rulings on jockeys and drivers' betting and the Lasix guidelines.

Steeplechase schedule

The Maryland Hunt Cup, highlight of the local steeplechasing season, will be held April 27 in Glyndon.

Preceding that climactic race are My Lady's Manor at Monkton on April 13 and the Grand National at Butler on April 20.

Fair Hill will hold its spring meeting May 27.

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