Laurel opens 10-day meet

Focus returns to track after run of bad news this week

Horse racing

August 08, 2008|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun reporter

Maryland's horsemen get a break today, returning to in-state racing for the first time in two months as Laurel Park opens for a 10-day mini meet.

"As usual, you'd rather run at home," said Laurel Park-based trainer Rodney Jenkins, who will send High Moment to post in one of the best races on today's card, a $36,000 allowance race for fillies and mares 3 years old and up.

It has been a long couple of days for Maryland's stricken racing industry as it took in the meaning of four pieces of bad news. The Pimlico Race Course barns will be closed as of Aug. 31 and all the horses and backstretch workers there will be relocated to the barn areas at Laurel and the Bowie Training Center. Laurel's fall major stakes schedule has been cut. Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns the Pimlico and Laurel tracks, announced a $4.4 million loss in Maryland in the second quarter, which includes the Preakness. And 11 days will be cut from Laurel's fall meet.

"It's part of racing and it's part of everyday life, where the economy is forcing everyone to save on money," Jenkins said. "We're about five years late getting slots. And I don't understand that. States have them all around us, and you can see it has helped the industry in those states, but more than that, it has helped those states support other programs and reduce taxes."

Maryland will find out its slots future when a referendum goes to voters Nov. 4.

Maryland Jockey Club president and chief executive Tom Chuckas said he can't wait for or depend on a slots vote.

"I have to operate without that and try to stabilize and grow the business," he said.

While the mini meet will run as it has in the recent past, Chuckas said he is working on ideas to improve the fall meet that begins after Labor Day.

"We want to attract younger people, and I think today's younger people are looking for more stimulus," Chuckas said. "A race is a short window. What do you do during those 20 minutes between races to keep younger people energized and engaged? I don't know what the answers are right now."

The current meet will feature free admission for the weekday cards and twilight racing, beginning at 3:30 p.m., on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

A pair of $50,000 state-bred stakes for 3-year-olds, tomorrow's Twixt Stakes and the Humphrey S. Finney Stakes on Aug. 16, will highlight the stand.

Yesterday was quiet at the tracks, with horsemen getting accustomed to the news from earlier this week. But trainer Dickie Small, who will have four of the eight entries in tomorrow's Twixt Stakes for Maryland-breds, said he isn't sure those who work and live at Pimlico are calmer.

"It helps to know what's happening, I guess," he said. "But I don't think it has really sunk in yet."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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