Jockey club gets an earful

Citing variety of issues, state racing commission says patience exhausted

Horse Racing

September 15, 2004|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Castigating the management of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park for everything from construction delays to security cutbacks to apathetic customer service, the Maryland Racing Commission delivered a stern message yesterday to the Maryland Jockey Club and its parent company, Magna Entertainment Corp.

"The truth is," said commissioner John McDaniel, "the commission has no more tolerance. Period."

Meeting at Pimlico, the commissioners addressed their grievances to Jim Gagliano, who has been in charge of racing operations at Pimlico and Laurel Park since July 1. An executive with Magna since February 2002, Gagliano worked previously at Philadelphia Park, Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands.

He told commissioners that rebuilding the track surfaces at Laurel Park had fallen behind schedule because of wet weather and that racing could not resume there until late October at the earliest - and then on the dirt track only. Although the primary goal of the $16 million project was building a new turf course, that has been postponed until next year.

"It's a terrible situation for a lot of us, difficult especially for the horsemen," Gagliano said. "It's our responsibility. We offer apologies to everyone for the delay."

In the meantime, racing will continue at Pimlico, and horses and horsemen will continue their summer shuffle. Since June, when work began at Laurel, about 500 horses have been stabled at Timonium. Most will have to leave by Sept. 27 to make room for a yearling auction Oct. 4 and 5.

About 160 racehorses can move into other stalls at Timonium near the show ring, but those stalls lack even basic amenities such as hot water and feed rooms. About 320 temporary stalls have been erected under blue and white tents at Pimlico.

Wayne Wright, executive secretary of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said the temporary stalls were a safety hazard. He said that what most horsemen and some commissioners had predicted would happen - that the Laurel surfaces could not be rebuilt this summer, as Magna executives had promised - has happened.

"Now it's not a problem, it's a disaster," Wright said. "It's a terrible, terrible occurrence."

Gagliano said the goal was to reopen Laurel for training about Oct. 18 and to resume racing there Oct. 28. Commissioners persuaded him to push back the latter date to Nov. 4 to avoid "another public relations knock," as commissioner Terry Saxon put it.

Just before the meeting ended, Richard Lippman, a mutuel clerk at Rosecroft Raceway and Laurel Park, addressed the commissioners about the myriad problems of Maryland racing, including poor customer service and inadequate security.

John Franzone, a commissioner, had earlier criticized Pimlico and Laurel Park management for cutbacks in security. He said that a backstretch worker at Laurel had recently been beaten nearly to death and that a fight had broken out on the backstretch at Pimlico.

Then, in response to Lippman's presentation, Franzone and fellow commissioner Alvin Akman challenged Gagliano to reverse the perception of track patrons.

"To the average person," Akman said, "the bottom line is: Nobody cares."

NOTE. Beginning today, patrons at Maryland tracks and off-track-betting facilities, as well as at betting sites throughout the mid-Atlantic, will not be able to watch or bet on races from Belmont Park. The MidAtlantic Cooperative, a group of 19 regional tracks that jointly negotiate simulcast deals, has failed to reach an agreement with the New York Racing Association.

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