Horsemen blame rejection on '05 levy


A day after rejecting the Magna corporation's proposal for racing dates in 2006, Wayne Wright, executive secretary of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said if the horsemen had been made the same offer as the breeders the deal would likely be done.

"The breeders accepted a deal in which they would pay 5.3 percent in 2006 only," said Wright. "That wasn't the deal we were offered. If we had been offered that, I'm sure it would have been overwhelmingly accepted."

Magna, which owns Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, proposed a racing season of 180 days, with stables at Laurel, Pimlico and the Bowie Training Center open throughout the year, and asked for contributions to operating costs from both the breeders and the horsemen.

Billy Boniface, president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, said his board accepted the plan, which required a 5.3 percent payment in 2006 based on purse and simulcasting profits, but nothing for 2004 or 2005, during which time a contribution agreement was not in place.

The horsemen were asked to contribute a retroactive payment of 5 percent for 2005, which would amount to about $2 million, and 5.3 percent in 2006, which could also be about $2 million, given fewer racing days.

Boniface said the breeders were given credit for having put the money they hadn't been paying for track costs into purses and Maryland-bred bonuses that helped strengthen the racing fields and that Magna gave them credit for it by not asking for 2005 money.

"Where did our money go?" said Wright. "It went into the purses, too."

But Maryland Jockey Club president Joe De Francis and chief operating officer Lou Raffetto said the situations are not the same.

"I don't want to go into details and negotiate in the papers," De Francis said. "But the breeders and horsemen are in very different situations and the horsemen are very aware of the differences."

De Francis said he does not know what will happen next.

"We put our best deal forward," he said.

Raffetto, who was at the horsemen's meeting, said there were follow-up discussions yesterday and that negotiations will continue.

Both De Francis and Raffetto agreed with Maryland Racing Commission member John Franzone, who suggested the three sides - the horsemen, breeders and tracks - should be totally focused on creating a unified business plan to present to the Maryland legislature next month instead of being distracted by the racing-date issue, which is already covered through June 10 under an existing agreement requiring five-day-a-week racing through the Belmont Stakes.

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