Magna's 2006 plan for racing rejected

'02 agreement cited

owners, horsemen eye long-term deal


The Maryland Racing Commission dealt Magna Entertainment Corp. a setback yesterday, but in the process may have pushed the owner of the state's thoroughbred tracks toward a compromise with the state's horsemen.

The commission, following the executive session recommendation of Maryland's senior assistant attorney general, Bruce Spizler, refused to consider Magna's revised schedule for 2006 racing.

The reason for the rejection of the plan, which asked for 129 days of racing at Laurel and Pimlico, including four-day-a-week racing from Jan. 1 through the Belmont Stakes, was that it did not meet the terms of an existing 2002 agreement between the tracks' operator, the Maryland Jockey Club, and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. (This year, the two tracks are scheduled to run 198 days.)

That agreement, as stated by MTHA attorney Alan Foreman at last month's commission meeting and so interpreted by Spizler after reading the document and listening to tapes of the original 2002 commission meeting, requires five-day racing weeks through the 2006 Belmont, which will be held June 10.

Though the upholding of the 2002 agreement does not solve Maryland's racing problems, it caused MJC president and chief executive officer Joe De Francis to withdraw the proposal yesterday.

Track ownership and the horsemen now will work on a long-term proposal that outgoing commission chairman Tom McDonough said he hoped will be one "everyone can live with."

De Francis told the commission, "We accept your admonishment to work something out with our colleagues and you," but Lou Raffetto, the MJC's chief operating officer, voiced the disappointment of ownership over the rejection of its proposal.

"We think we've proven a four-day race week works," Raffetto said, pointing to the increased sizes of race fields this September and the popularity of Maryland turf races among bettors country-wide. "If forced to five days, I predict the field sizes will diminish."

Meanwhile, Foreman said the horsemen realize there are serious problems, but added, "I will not continue to talk to a wall. We need someone on the other side who will listen." Wayne Wright, the MTHA's executive secretary said, however, "We will make every effort to work with Magna."

And Billy K. Boniface, president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, said he thinks the commission went in the right direction. "It gives the groups a chance to sit down and work toward a resolution," he said.

James Fielder, state secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulations, under whose jurisdiction the racing commission falls, attended yesterday's meeting.

"We are at the point of determining the long-term vibrancy of the industry," Fielder said. "Egos have to be set aside."

Last month, McDonough offered to bring the sides together for negotiations but was turned down because horsemen perceived a bias on the commissioner's part in favor of Magna.

Yesterday ended McDonough's two-year term as chairman. At the end of the meeting, he handed the leadership to John McDaniel.

McDaniel, a Howard County horse breeder who has been on the commission for more than 15 years, said he believes the commission's role must change.

"The commission will have to take on a more assertive role," McDaniel said. "In the past, we've been a regulatory body. But we're going to have to use more power and make sure there will be a resolution. It won't get done without the commission's help. ... We have to focus on what's in the best interest of Maryland - and how much pride we take in having a first-rate racing state."

McDaniel said he expects meetings between track ownership and horsemen to begin as early as next week.

NOTES -- In other business, the commission approved Ocean Downs' request for 40 days of racing next year. ... The Maryland Jockey Club confirmed it intends to seek legislation that will permit it to close the Bowie Training Center on or about June

Maryland Million Day


20th anniversary day of racing for Maryland-sired horses.


Laurel Park


Tomorrow, post time 12:35 p.m.


A total of 145 horses have been entered for 12 races.


Ch. 54 (4 p.m.-6 p.m.)


Totals $1.5 million, a national record for sire stakes events.

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