Thoroughbred horsemen hold 'reasonable' ground in simulcast revenue war Prolonged racing dispute could lead to severe financial losses, cutbacks

November 21, 1997|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Maryland's thoroughbred horsemen are upset with being depicted as the heavies in the battle over simulcasting revenue and say they have "dealt with the overall issue in a fair and reasonable way."

Wayne Wright, executive secretary of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horseman's Association, said his group has given ground to Maryland Jockey Club president Joe De Francis and their harness counterparts and is now saying: no more.

Cross-breed simulcasting of daytime harness racing to Pimlico and Laurel Park and night thoroughbred action to Rosecroft Raceway has ceased because of the dispute. On Nov. 15, an extension of the "facilities use" agreement expired.

If it is a prolonged division, the state's tracks, horsemen and off-track betting parlors will suffer immense financial losses and may face severe cutbacks or a shutdown.

Wright said the MTHA's board of directors "has and is still willing to pay a major portion of expenses of intertracking, amounting to upward of $1 million a year, which goes directly to the Maryland Jockey Club [Laurel and Pimlico].

"And the horsemen are on the record and a majority of the board agreed to increase the harness share in the signal to a 65-35 [percent split, the majority to harness], and that is an increase from 55-45 not too long ago."

Much of the horsemen's disenchantment with De Francis centers on the 2 percent they have been contributing to pay the expenses of running the Rosecroft facility during the day.

When the original agreement was made, De Francis estimated that Rosecroft would handle $150,000 daily during the day hours, making the horsemen's share of the expenses roughly $3,000.

But the daily handle average turned out to be appreciably higher at Rosecroft, and the horseman's share of expenses (on certain days $6,000 to $10,000) rose accordingly.

The MTHA has applied a $3,000 daily ceiling because, according to Alan Foreman, attorney for the group, De Francis "didn't hire any new people. He just shifted them and some patrons to Rosecroft."

De Francis also profits by almost $1 million a year via admissions charges at Rosecroft, according to Gerry Brittingham, president of Cloverleaf Enterprises, which owns the harness facility.

The channeling of business from Laurel hurt the horsemen, as did the termination of the simulcast agreement with Ocean Downs, which cost them $500,000 yearly.

Said Wright: "We have bent over backward to work with management on this to make it work."

The MTHA is also irked by Cloverleaf's insistence on 70 percent of the profits from thoroughbred telecasting at night.

"They have not moved one inch," said Wright. "We have moved up 10 percent. To me, this is an honest and fair position and one that treats the harness industry equitably."

Brittingham has repeatedly said that the 70 percent figure is the "best and final offer" of the harness interests.

Thoroughbred horsemen see themselves as aiding the struggling harness side, which has the less attractive product.

"We can go no farther," said Wright. "I suggest the harness people look to Mr. De Francis for the additional 5 percent."

Pub Date: 11/21/97

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