Changes in Magna plan uncertain


Maryland's horsemen and racetrack management have been discussing ways to alter a plan to cut the state's racing days by half, but how much success they're having in these continuing talks depends on who is doing the talking.

"I think it is fair to say at this point that there will be a modification in the proposal," said Lou Raffetto, the Maryland Jockey Club's chief operating officer. "We're trying to do this in advance" of the Maryland Racing Commission's meeting next Thursday.

But Joe De Francis, the MJC's president and chief executive officer, said he has given up on predictions, though he expects more talks in the next few days.

"Maybe I misspoke when I said it was a non-negotiable plan," said De Francis of his statement immediately after the racing panel's meeting Sept. 13. "I did not mean to imply we weren't willing to discuss better ideas.

"I meant it wasn't a negotiating ploy. It was our best thought for keeping Maryland racing viable in 2006. But we don't have any monopoly on good ideas, so we're happy to sit and talk."

Magna Entertainment Corp., owner of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, has proposed running 112 days in 2006, down from about 200 this year.

Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association attorney Alan Foreman is not shy about expressing what the horsemen think of the plan. "It is premature, ill-conceived and detrimental to legislative progress, and I've had an honest discussion with Magna about that," he said.

Foreman said MTHA officials met with track officials Sept. 19 and will continue to do so.

"The goal right now is to quiet the situation down and allow for rational progress," he said. " ... We have an agreement through Belmont Day 2006. Why don't we use that? And, in the interim, we will sit down and work with them. It will give us some breathing room and take the tension off and allow us to get through another legislative session."

Foreman said Laurel's new turf course, which has drawn large, competitive fields, has made the track one of the most popular simulcast signals in the country, adding Magna's plan to not use that course most of the year probably doesn't make sense even to the corporation.

Though the numbers are expected to decline when Laurel starts running five days a week instead of four on Oct. 9, the track's fall meet thus far has averaged 9.6 starters per race, the highest in the country and up from 7.9 last year.

Bettors at Laurel, Pimlico and the state's off-track sites have wagered 33 percent more than at the same point last year during the fall meet.

And Laurel's popularity across the country is reflected by a 90 percent increase in simulcast bets.

Yesterday, De Francis said the success of the track has not come as a surprise, but added, "It will be hard to maintain that over the long run."

Notes -- A total of 145 horses have been pre-entered in the 12-race card for Maryland Million day at Laurel Park on Oct. 8. That number is down from last year, when 171 horses were pre-entered.

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