Commissioners hear details of settlement

Thoroughbred, harness groups tell of feud's end

Horse Racing

April 12, 2006|By SANDRA MCKEE | SANDRA MCKEE,SUN REPORTER

The monthly Maryland Racing Commission meeting was in session yesterday when more than a half dozen chairs were assembled before it. As members of Maryland's thoroughbred and standardbred industries took seats, it became apparent this would be a meeting unlike any in a very long time.

Drawn together by a document hammered out over more than three months, representatives of the two sides told the commission they have settled the many differences that had divided the sides for more than a decade.

"I don't know how many of you know how Damascus steel is made," said James Fielder, Maryland secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulations, "but this group emulated that process. The steel is heated until it is cherry red. Then it is beat on and allowed to cool.

"Then it is heated again and beat on some more. And, unlike things that happened in Annapolis [in the General Assembly] in the last 90 days, the leadership on both sides stepped forward to get this done."

The agreement, which has been approved by the Maryland Horse Breeders Association; Maryland Standardbred Breeders Association; Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association; Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc.; the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, went into effect Sunday and will be in effect through Dec. 31, 2021.

The agreement, known as the "Cross-Breed Agreement" is a compromise that settles questions about such major issues as simulcasting rights, revenue sharing and off-track betting parlors. Among its many provisions are:

Cloverleaf will pay the jockey club $5.9 million annually for the right to accept wagers at Rosecroft Raceway on all live races conducted at Pimlico and Laurel Park and at all out-of-state thoroughbred racetracks, provided Rosecroft continues to receive the signals and accepts wagers on races at substantially all of the same thoroughbred tracks that it did in 2005.

The parties agree that, in the event the state of Maryland and/or the General Assembly allocates money to purses in the form of a subsidy of any kind the parties will split the revenue 80 percent to 20 percent between the thoroughbred and harness industries, respectively.

The parties agree to continue to operate and distribute net revenue from the Cracked Claw and North East off-track betting parlors according to the 80/20 format, but will allocate revenue from a rebuilt OTB at Colonial Beach 60/40.

Revenues from any new OTBs built outside a 35-mile radius at each track will be kept by the organization building the betting site.

The parties agree to present legislation before the 2007 General Assembly to eliminate the 6:15 p.m. law that prevents the thoroughbred industry from conducting evening or night racing.

"This agreement brings the breeds together," said Mary Manney, director of operations at Rosecroft. "It unites us and means we can now move on to other important issues. We should now be able to grow our business."

The agreement represents a $2 million per year savings in simulcasting costs for the standardbred industry that Maryland Racing Commission member Bill Gerweck said "gives them a little breathing room.

"Everyone knows where they stand now. It's like going to McDonald's and knowing what you're going to get."

The one disappointment yesterday was that the General Assembly did not pass legislation that would have provided $15 million in purse subsidies for this year.

The legislation passed in the House, but it got caught up in politics and Senate rules. Fielder, however, said he is very hopeful that the Cross-Breed Agreement will be a positive in future industry efforts in Annapolis.

If it isn't, said Alan Foreman, attorney for the MTHA, Maryland horse racing will face major changes.

"We're an industry in a severe competitive disadvantage in the region through no fault of our own," Foreman said.

"If we can't be competitive in respect to purses and bred funds, we'll have to make major changes in our business and those changes will ripple through the economy of the state."

smm2me@aol.com

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