The Maryland Racing Commission yesterday approved the reduction of live racing days at the annual Timonium meeting and the shift of six weeks of action from Laurel Park to Pimlico, including this year's Maryland Million program on Oct. 13.
At its monthly meeting in a House of Delegates committee room in Annapolis, the panel concurred with Timonium's request to suspend live racing on Monday, Aug. 27, and Tuesday, Aug. 28, leaving the Maryland State Fair meet with eight live cards from Aug. 25 through Labor Day.
Officials remained "unsure" whether Timonium would conduct simulcasting at own track on the two new dark days, but the network will be open at all the other sites - Laurel Park, Pimlico, Rosecroft Raceway and the off-track betting facilities.
State fair general manager Howard "Max" Mosner said the York Road track is the latest victim of the state legislature's failure to approve this year's $10 million subsidy to the industry, a development that has Maryland racing on a decided downturn.
"Unless something happens to enable us to compete with West Virginia and Delaware [where slot machine revenue has contributed significantly to increased purses for racing], the spiral will keep going the wrong way," Mosner said.
The overall purse structure at Timonium has been chopped from $1.4 million to $1 million. Three $30,000 stakes races have been eliminated, two $50,000 stakes purses have been chopped by $10,000 and the offerings for less lucrative races have been sliced by $2,000 to $4,000, depending on conditions. Instead of a $150,000 average purse for 10 days, the track will now offer a $125,000 average for eight days.
"We had an off year in 2000," said Mosner, who noted that the meet handle fell by 10 percent (from $16.6 million to $15.1 million). "And we thought that considering what is happening in the economy, we could be facing another one."
In addition, the admission price to the fair, which enables fans to also attend the races, has been raised $1 to $5.
With teams of engineers still ostensibly baffled about the cause of the cracked window panes in the grandstand at Laurel, the Maryland Jockey Club decided a move to Pimlico was the most feasible option, and the commission agreed. Sufficient time is required for pre-planning and publicity for the Maryland Million, the state's second-biggest racing day of the year.
"It appears the breakage is a symptom of some underlying disease the engineers and other experts cannot identify," said MJC chief executive officer Joe De Francis. "We're not yet in a position to have any definite answers about the problem."
A question was posed about the status of Pimlico's turf course and De Francis admitted it is "not ideal. But I think through very judicious use in August, come fall it will be ready. That is a manageable problem."
The hope is that racing can return to Laurel on the Wednesday after the Million card.
NOTES: The commissioners also approved several changes to harness racing regulations. One allows a driver to steer a breaking horse inside all others "if that does not give" the horse "an unfair competitive advantage." Another eliminates the need for notarization on an authorization form for claiming a horse, and another will allow persons under 16 to work in non-secured areas at the track with a work permit.