Racing dates in '06 still not set

Magna's proposal rejected by MTHA, which wants to run locally in summer

December 22, 2005|By SANDRA MCKEE | SANDRA MCKEE,SUN REPORTER

The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association did not accept the latest compromise proposal from Magna Entertainment Corp. last night, leaving a deal on 2006 racing dates unresolved.

Magna, owner of Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, offered a plan featuring 180 days of live racing, year-round stabling and a request for substantial contributions to help cover operating costs.

Last night, MTHA president Richard Hoffberger said his board accepted the 180 days, but wants to run locally during the summer months when the Maryland Jockey Club would rather keep its doors closed because of increased competition from operations in surrounding states.

The MTHA also agreed to an expense contribution, but not the one proposed by the tracks.

The rejection of the tracks' compromise proposal, which was pieced together by Maryland Jockey Club president Joe De Francis after talks with the executive directors of both the MTHA and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, left the racing community with jumbled feelings.

"I don't think it is surprising that all these issues aren't resolved," Hoffberger said shortly after the two-hour meeting at Laurel Park. "The question is, is the glass half empty or half full? I see it as a step closer than we were at 6 a.m. [yesterday]. We did approve the continuation of simulcasting, which could have been a huge problem for the tracks, the breeders and the horsemen if not approved, and the board agreed to continue to talk. ... There are difficult decisions to be made by all parties. We're not in agreement, but we're agreeing to continue to talk and that is a good thing."

Lou Raffetto, the MJC's chief operating officer, did not return phone calls last night.

Maryland Racing Commission member John Franzone said he views the entire issue of trying to reach an agreement on racing dates for 2006 as "a distraction."

"I don't think it's surprising," he said. "I think it's expected. The horsemen have a deal to run five days a week through mid-June 2006. There is no burning [fire] to get this deal done. Even the racetrack seems to be taking a `let's see what happens' approach.

"What's important is to present a united business plan to the Legislature. And I'm very positive about that getting done. But, at best, these squabbles are over a one-year deal that after April could be totally different. Let's focus on a business plan for Magna."

But Billy Boniface, president of the MHBA, said his board Tuesday accepted the compromise deal despite reservations and added, "I am disappointed [MTHA] didn't come to a resolution."

Boniface said he and Hoffberger had told De Francis that "we felt we could do something with this plan. Richard has more obstacles to face than I did, but we've all got to think toward the future. There has to be give and take."

Neither the MTHA nor the MHBA leadership liked the proposed deal. Boniface, however, was able to lead his board to acceptance of the track's request for a 5.3 percent payment of revenues generated from live racing and simulcasting in 2006.

The breeders have not contributed to the operating costs of the tracks since an agreement to pay 6 percent expired in 2004. Since that time, the breeders have used that money to help increase race fields by adding to purse money and increasing bonuses for Maryland-bred horses. Boniface said the tracks gave the breeders credit for that and did not ask for a retroactive payment.

But Boniface said he has written a letter asking that their contributions to the MJC operating costs continue to be used to promote the advantage of racing Maryland-breds here.

"Neither Richard nor I liked the deal being offered," Boniface said. "But it was something to take before our boards and try to move forward. I did what I had to do, and my board did a good job. ... Now Richard has to work hard with his board to get it done."

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