First progress is made in Pimlico talks

Bid to keep stables open is topic at two meetings

Horse Racing

November 19, 2003|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The first indication that a deal might be worked out to keep Pimlico's stables open for the winter emerged yesterday as meetings took place between horsemen's leadership and track management in a Baltimore office and between horsemen's leadership and angry Pimlico backstretch workers in the Pimlico track kitchen.

James D. Fielder Jr., secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, of which the Maryland Racing Commission is part, summoned leaders of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and the Maryland Jockey Club to a meeting yesterday morning in his office in downtown Baltimore.

Participants were close-mouthed about developments afterward. But Wayne Wright, executive secretary of the MTHA, which represents thoroughbred owners and trainers, told a gathering of backstretch workers - grooms, hot walkers, exercise riders and trainers - at Pimlico in the afternoon that he was optimistic an agreement would be reached.

"I think we're operating from the position that we're going to work this out," Wright said. "I'm optimistic that something positive will happen today or tomorrow."

The Pimlico dispute is coming to a head because the MTHA board of directors voted last week to try to stop the tracks from offering betting on out-of-state simulcasts beginning Nov. 30, the day after Pimlico's threatened closing. Such betting amounts to about 70 percent of wagering at Pimlico, Laurel Park and their off-track-betting centers.

Negotiations will continue today, representatives of both sides said. Meeting behind closed doors yesterday were Lou Raffetto Jr., chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club; Don Amos, chief operating officer of Magna Entertainment Corp., majority owner of the MJC; and Alan Foreman, MTHA attorney. Wright and Richard Hoffberger, president of the MTHA, attended the session before leaving for the 2 p.m. meeting at Pimlico.

About 150 backstretch workers crowded into the Pimlico kitchen. Wright's announcement that progress was being made mollified them, but they still voiced anger about Pimlico's announced closing and their possibly losing jobs or being displaced.

Sen. Ulysses Currie, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, attended the meeting with Gerald Evans, the horsemen's lobbyist. They stopped in because Evans had given Currie a tour of the backstretch.

"I came just to learn more about your condition, how you live," said Currie, remarking that he'd grown up in poverty. "Even down in the country I don't think I saw quite as many rats as you have, and I saw some big ones, too."

Karin De Francis, executive vice president of the MJC, represented the track at the meeting and promised to take workers' concerns back to management.

Raffetto had told horsemen that management would close the stable area at Pimlico from Nov. 29 to March 1 to save about $700,000. Horsemen argued that the temporary closing of Pimlico would force undue hardship on its backstretch workers, even forcing some out of work.

They also questioned whether squeezing horses into Laurel and Bowie would provide sufficient entrants for races and whether doubling up workers into already cramped rooms at Laurel and Bowie would be humane.

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