A 'last-ditch' effort

Md. Senate president suggests state could build racetrack and run the Preakness

Horse Racing

March 18, 2009|By Bill Ordine and Gadi Dechter | Bill Ordine and Gadi Dechter,bill.ordine@baltsun.com and gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

While the Maryland Racing Commission tried to address stalled negotiations between the state's racetracks and account wagering companies that accept bets on the Internet and by telephone, state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller was suggesting the state consider building a thoroughbred course and running the Preakness.

Magna Entertainment Corp. - the Canadian-based owner of the Maryland Jockey Club, which includes Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course and the Preakness - filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this month and has indicated all its tracks are for sale, including Laurel and Pimlico, home of the Preakness. Maryland law gives the state the option to buy the Preakness if it is offered for sale. In such a case, the state would have to match any accepted offer.

"Maybe we can build our own racetrack," said Miller, who called the idea a "last-ditch" effort, but one that might be necessary to preserve the state's horse racing legacy.

Meanwhile, the racing commission, meeting yesterday at Laurel Park, heard Alan Foreman, lawyer for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, complain the Maryland Jockey Club was still waiting for $1 million in payments from one of the account wagering companies, Youbet. Foreman said Youbet has failed to make payments that represent portions of the wagering handle that should go to the local tracks as well as purses since mid-2007. Officials for Youbet could not be reached for comment. Two other wagering companies, XpressBet and twinspires, have failed to come to new contract terms with the Maryland Jockey Club for 2009, Foreman said.

In response, the racing commission voted to notify all three companies they were to reach agreement with the Jockey Club and the horsemen by March 31 or face being prohibited from accepting wagers in the state.

In other racing news, the state attorney general's office has issued an opinion that the "instant racing" gambling machines being sought by Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington do not meet the state's gambling laws for pari-mutuel wagering. The instant racing machines allow bettors to wager on so-called "historical races" that were otherwise unidentified. Rosecroft was seeking 50 such machines.

The commission also heard a public appeal from longtime horse farm owner Morty Rosen that it aggressively work to preserve Maryland's racetracks and the Preakness in the face of Magna's Chapter 11 filing.

"You have to be the driving force," said Rosen, who reminded commissioners how the state helped build a baseball park and a football stadium and suggested the state help save racing by buying the tracks.

Miller, the Calvert County Democrat, was sounding a similar theme in Annapolis.

In typically colorful language, Miller heaped scorn yesterday on anyone who would surrender the state's claim to the second jewel of the Triple Crown and Maryland's biggest one-day sporting event.

"Those that want to throw history under the bus, in my opinion, ought to be thrown under the bus themselves," Miller said.

In the past, Miller and other state lawmakers have discussed the possibility of authorizing the Maryland Stadium Authority to construct a so-called "super track" in Baltimore that could also feature slot machines. The idea was last broached in 2004 as part of a potential compromise to legalize slot-machine gambling but has fallen by the wayside since then.


The Maryland Jockey Club announced the schedule for stakes races at Pimlico Race Course this spring:

April 18: Hookedonthefeelin ($50,000), Geisha ($50,000)

April 25: Henry Clark ($75,000)

May 2: Federico Tesio ($75,000)

May 15: Black-Eyed Susan (GII, $150,000), Adena Stallions' Miss Preakness (GIII, $100,000), Jim McKay Turf Sprint ($100,000), Hilltop ($50,000), The Very One ($50,000), Skipat ($50,000), Kattegat's Pride ($35,000)

May 16: Preakness (GI, $1,000,000), Dixie (GII, $150,000), Allaire duPont Distaff (GII, $150,000), William Donald Schaefer (GIII, $100,000), Maryland Sprint (GIII, $100,000), Hirsch Jacobs (GIII, $100,000), Gallorette (GIII, $100,000), Woodlawn ($50,000), Deputed Testamony ($35,000)

May 23: Shine Again ($50,000)

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