Md. trainers, owners seeking to block Jockey Club simulcasts

They're upset by closing of Pimlico barns in winter

November 14, 2003|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which represents state racing trainers and owners, has voted to try to stop the Maryland Jockey Club from simulcasting out-of-state races.

MTHA directors took the 11-1 vote Wednesday night and informed the MJC about it yesterday in a letter. The cessation in simulcasting would begin Nov. 30, the day after the MJC plans to close the Pimlico stables for the winter.

If the horsemen's association is successful in stopping the simulcasting, then it would cripple the racing industry in the state. About 70 percent of money wagered at the tracks and off-track-betting sites is on out-of-state races shown on television monitors.

The horsemen are angry over the MJC's closing of the Pimlico barn area for three months this winter. That closing, which the MJC has said would save it $600,000 to $700,000, would force trainers and backstretch workers to relocate temporarily to Laurel Park, the Bowie Training Center or private farms.

In addition, horsemen are angry over the Maryland Racing Commission's decision Tuesday not to intervene in the Pimlico dispute. After hearing testimony from horsemen at its meeting last month, the commission did not allow additional testimony Tuesday. Horsemen left the meeting livid.

"It's the culmination of frustration by horsemen in dealing with the Maryland Jockey Club and the refusal of the Maryland Racing Commission even to entertain the issue of the Pimlico closing," said Alan Foreman, attorney for the horsemen's group. "The power play at the racing commission meeting was the last straw. That was like an earthquake."

Lou Raffetto Jr., chief operating officer of the MJC, reacted with indignation to the horsemen's threat. He said their problem seemed to be mainly with the racing commission, not with track management.

"I can't believe [that] just because they didn't get what they wanted, that they would jeopardize the whole racing program," Raffetto said. "Why take such an outrageous step? It's like the spoiled kid taking his bat and ball and going home because he didn't get his way."

Raffetto also disputed the horsemen's ability to stop the tracks from offering betting on out-of-state races. He said their rights were limited to approving or disapproving the transmission of Maryland's races to tracks in other states.

Foreman, the horsemen's lawyer, said Raffetto was wrong. Foreman said state and federal law gave the horsemen veto power over simulcast races coming in or going out of MJC facilities. He said he expected the MJC to fight the horsemen tooth and nail, possibly even in court.

Foreman said horsemen's association representatives would like to meet with track management to try to resolve their differences. Raffetto responded: "The door's always open."

Tom McDonough, chairman of the racing commission, said that if a majority of the commissioners wanted to conduct a special meeting or to revisit the Pimlico issue in some other way, then he would accommodate them. He said he would be willing to try to help resolve the dispute before the Nov. 30 deadline.

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