CAMBRIDGE -- The Maryland Racing Commission yesterday approved plans by the Maryland Jockey Club to cut 11 stakes races from its Laurel Park schedule this fall to make up a projected $3 million deficit in the horsemen's purse account.
That cut alone will save $995,000. But Lou Raffetto, president and chief operating officer of the Jockey Club, said purses of three other stakes, including the Grade I Frank J. De Francis Dash, will each be reduced by $50,000. And every other race during the meet that runs from after Labor Day through the end of the year will be cut by $2,000.
On June 12, the Jockey Club had announced its intention to cut $3 million from its budget and the general purse reductions.
"When you're out of money, you have to make adjustments," said Wayne Wright, executive secretary of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, whose organization worked with Raffetto to make the cuts. "It was very painful. The purse cuts alone amount to [close to $2.5] million. We hope business this fall will be better than anticipated. Since August of last year, we've seen a $12 million swing in our spending."
The De Francis Dash, which will now pay $250,000, is scheduled for Nov. 24. It is traditionally one of the biggest days in Maryland racing, with eight stakes on the race card. But this year Dash Day will have just four stakes on the program, losing the $100,000 Anne Arundel and the Laurel Turf Cup, April Run and Stefanita, which each had paid $75,000.
The Anne Arundel is one of two $100,000 races cut; the other is the Martha Washington Breeders' Cup Stakes.
Of the remaining 28 stakes on the schedule, 24 are restricted to Maryland-bred or --sired horses, leaving just four open stakes.
"We compromised on everything to put this together," Raffetto said. "I didn't want to cut the dash at all, but others didn't want to run the Laurel Futurity or the Selima Stakes. We compromised. I think the Futurity, with Barbaro winning two years ago, and the Selima, with Street Sound winning, are poised to be graded.
"I think it's important to run them. We're trying to hold on to some thread of credibility here."
Last winter, the Jockey Club canceled the Grade I $500,000 Pimlico Special, which dated to War Admiral's victory in 1937, leaving Maryland with just the De Francis and Preakness as Grade I stakes races.
Raffetto said he believes the dash should still draw a strong field, as it is scheduled four weeks after the Breeders' Cup and could make a difference in voting for the 2007 sprint champion, as it did last year.
"I think most people understand the dire straits we're in," Raffetto said. "If we can put on good, competitive races for the balance of the card, that should carry us. Having five-horse stakes races is not the answer. Having good, competitive racing is."
He also said the stakes races could return next year, depending on what happens in the the legislature, where the horse racing industry is seeking support for a supplement or slots.
The commission also approved Timonium's request for only seven days of live racing during the state fair. Races are scheduled for Aug. 24, 25 and 26 and Aug. 31, Sept. 1, 2 and 3.
There will be simulcasting at the track 10 of the 11 days from Aug. 24 to Sept. 3. Timonium runs only during the state fair.