Memo places racing board in hot seat Legislation to aid industry at heart of controversy

March 20, 1997|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Racing Commission yesterday found itself in the middle of the swirling controversy about proposed legislation designed to promote the industry in the state.

The body's monthly meeting turned into a debate after Alan Foreman, attorney for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, introduced a memo with the letterhead of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation that said the commission opposed bills that would provide financial relief to racing.

Foreman, representatives of Laurel and Pimlico, the state's breeders and Standardbred interests received the communique at Tuesday's hearings of the Senate Finance Committee in Annapolis.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration has formally opposed four bills aimed at increasing purses to help ward off competition from Delaware Park -- which opens in two weeks and has boosted its purses with the influx of slot-machine revenue. The administration also has recommended delaying action until 1998 and the creation of a study committee.

"In 18 years of addressing this commission, I have never been more discouraged about anything," Foreman said. "I'm absolutely stunned that the Maryland Racing Commission would urge the General Assembly to do nothing.

"While this study is going on, horses are going up the road [to Delaware], and the quality of our racing continues to deteriorate. While the battle between the governor and [Laurel and Pimlico owner] Joe De Francis goes on, they're taking us down with them."

Members of the commission strongly denied any opposition to the bills, which also include aid for the struggling Maryland Million program, which is having trouble landing corporate sponsors.

"Our position regarding legislation has always been one of neutrality," commissioner John McDaniel said. "I am appalled that there has been a misrepresentation of our neutrality. We are a non-political body."

After a unanimous vote, commission chairman E. William Furey drafted a letter stating the body's position to be sent to the administration.

Foreman said he senses an increased awareness in the General Assembly of the importance of racing and that something must be done to help it.

Pimlico's next meeting, starting April 1, will include 49 live racing days and 11 days of simulcasting.

The track will be dark on Tuesdays and conduct simulcasting only on Mondays except for Memorial Day (live card), Sunday, May 18 (the day after the Preakness), and Thursday, May 29 (Memorial Day week).

The biggest changes in the stakes schedule are a decrease in the purse for the Federico Tesio (down $50,000 to $150,000), and an increase for the Sir Barton (up $25,000 to $75,000) and the inclusion of the William Donald Schaefer and the Maryland Breeders' Cup in the MATCH series.

Pub Date: 3/20/97

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