Told to make peace, groups stuck in gate

Notebook

Deadlocked state dispute `mind-boggling, shameful'

Horse Racing

November 27, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

FREDERICK -- At the risk of losing even more credibility with lawmakers in Annapolis and despite a deadline imposed by the Maryland Racing Commission, the state's racing industry acknow- ledged yesterday that it has not made peace among the ranks.

If anything, the disparate factions demonstrated at the monthly meeting of the racing commission that resolving their disputes is a long shot that even the most desperate bettor wouldn't wager upon.

Disputes between the thoroughbred and harness segments over revenue sharing, simulcasting and constructing off-track betting facilities -- and even the dispute between the thoroughbred horsemen and track management over racing dates next year -- remained unresolved.

"We can't get together on anything," said Terry Saxon, a racing commission member. "That's mind-boggling. ... It's shameful."

At its meeting in late October, the commissioners ordered industry leaders to resolve their thoroughbred-harness differences within two weeks. The urgency was a letter from Casper R. Taylor Jr., speaker of the House of Delegates, imploring the industry to solve its problems and unite. The implied threat was if it didn't, it would lose any chance of regaining a state grant for purses.

After receiving the ultimatum, the horsemen, breeders and track owners held several meetings but reached no agreement. The commission extended the deadline to yesterday's meeting.

Instead of seeing smiles and signed agreements, the commission heard Mike Pons, president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, report: "There's so much mistrust. ... I don't think anyone wants to agree at this point."

The commission approved a Wednesday-through-Sunday racing schedule at Laurel Park through March. But it did not consider summer dates because the horsemen and Maryland Jockey Club cannot agree on when to shut down for the meet at Colonial Downs in Virginia. They couldn't agree last year either.

They did agree, however, to eliminate 11 stakes and cut the purses of nine others during the first three months of 2002. Those cuts follow severe reductions in the stakes program because of the loss this year of the state's $10 million purse supplement.

At the close of the meeting, commissioner Erwin Mendelson said: "This is all going downhill."

Allegany track discussed

The racing commission began the final phase of its hearing yesterday on construction of a horse track in Western Maryland.

The commission started the hearing after concluding its regular monthly meeting in Frederick. The hearing will resume at 10 a.m. today in Winchester Hall at 12 E. Church St.

William Rickman Jr. and his father, William Rickman Sr., have proposed building a small track off Interstate 86 in eastern Allegany County. It would feature thoroughbred and harness racing three weeks a year, offer simulcast betting 363 days a year and be subsidized by off-track-betting parlors elsewhere in the state. The Rickmans own Delaware Park, a thoroughbred track with slot machines near Wilmington, and Ocean Downs, a harness track on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Rickman Jr. told commissioners that the track would feature a 40,000-square-foot main building with 700 seats, another 300 seats on the track apron and 200 more under a clubhouse tent. The racing surface would be a combined three-quarters mile oval with a quarter-mile lead-in chute.

Bill Fasy, who would be the track's chief operating officer, said that it would race thoroughbreds 15 days and standardbreds six days. Thoroughbred purses would be $152,000 per day and standardbred purses would be $66,000 per day, he said.

The racing commission has already granted preliminary approval to the track. This phase of the hearing is about the specifics of track operations. As it has from the outset, opposition from Western Maryland residents surfaced.

"We are drawing a line and saying, `No more gambling,' " said Mike Huskins, an Allegany County minister. "We're going to fight you at every step to make this thing fail."

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