Harness industry warns of simulcasting threat

Horse Racing

February 23, 2005|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

A long-standing dispute between the standardbred and thoroughbred factions could once again disrupt simulcasting at horse tracks in the state - as it did last year during the Triple Crown series.

Tom Chuckas Jr., president and CEO of Rosecroft Raceway, said yesterday that "the same traumatic events that occurred last year could occur this year," unless the sides resolve the dispute that has poisoned relations for years.

Chuckas' comments came after his brief appearance before the Maryland Racing Commission, which met at Laurel Park for its monthly meeting. Chuckas told commissioners that the owners of Rosecroft Raceway - the track's horsemen - had decided to "take a step back" and "not rush into anything" after its deal with the family of Peter Angelos, majority owner of the Orioles, crumbled last week.

Angelos' wife, Georgia, was to close the deal to buy Rosecroft on Feb. 15. But when Rosecroft representatives appeared at the closing table, they were told Angelos was not interested in completing the deal unless she could have a 60-day penalty-free extension. Rosecroft officials said no. That was the third agreement to buy Rosecroft that fell apart in the past two years.

Chuckas told commissioners that Rosecroft could continue operating under a plan to race 106 days this year - 34 days fewer than scheduled - for purses of $40,000 per night. The harness track in Prince George's County currently races Friday and Saturday nights. It will add Thursday night next month.

That plan, Chuckas said, "provides for no future. It's just treading water."

What's critical to Rosecroft's financial well-being, Chuckas said after the meeting, is reaching agreement with the thoroughbred horsemen, breeders and track owners on a formula for revenue-sharing. The current agreement expires April 30.

Last year, when negotiations between the sides broke down, Rosecroft stopped showing thoroughbred races, and Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park closed at 6:15 p.m. That lasted from mid-April to mid-June. Spokesmen for both sides acknowledged substantial losses during the period.

They also acknowledged - and continue to acknowledge - deep-seated differences in philosophy over how to divide revenues. Rosecroft officials believe they should be divided based on how much money is bet at each track. Thoroughbred officials believe they should be divided on how much of the money is bet on harness races and how much on thoroughbred races.

Chuckas' warning that the conflict could result in the same "traumatic events" as last year was reinforced by Alan Foreman, attorney for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. Of the standardbred negotiators, he said: "No reasonable proposal is acceptable to them."

In addition to hearing Chuckas' update on Rosecroft, racing commissioners approved the spring stakes schedule for Pimlico. It includes the Pimlico Special on May 20, the day before the Preakness. The horsemen's regular purse account will not fund the $500,000 purse.

Funding will come from money withheld from wagers once intended for capital improvements (the General Assembly must approve that) or from Magna Entertainment Corp., majority owner of the Maryland Jockey Club, said Lou Raffetto Jr., chief operating officer of the MJC.

The commissioners also moved closer to adopting a horse-medication plan that's being embraced by all states in the region. The plan is not significantly different from what's already in place in Maryland, officials said.

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