Dear Frank Stronach: Man up!

The owner of Pimlico and Laurel can save Maryland racing and his legacy

November 08, 2010|By Dan Rodricks

Attention, Mr. Frank Stronach. As chairman of the parent company of the Maryland Jockey Club, owner and operator of Laurel Park and Pimlico, I assume you know what was said here last week — that, because you guys lost on Question A in Anne Arundel County, you're going to close Laurel and reduce Maryland thoroughbred racing to a 40-day meet at Pimlico.

I assume this was your idea, Mr. Frank Stronach. It's a bad idea.

Maybe you're just trying to scare everyone into changing their plans — and state law — by giving you a slots casino. Maybe you want the one that's supposed to be built in Baltimore, and maybe you'd like to see it at Pimlico. Maybe you're just really ticked off that David Cordish won the referendum to build his slots emporium and entertainment center at Arundel Mills when you and the MJC wanted slots at Laurel.

Maybe you're just in a sour mood.

But, cheer up. I know how you can make everything fine and be a real hero of racing in the eastern United States, if you care to be. What a legacy that would be, Mr. Frank Stronach.

You do care about legacy, right?

I'm also assuming that you really care about horse racing. You own horses and race tracks. Only Sunday night you paid $2.3 million for Awesome Feather, winner of the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies race the day before.

Obviously, you believe in the sport of kings and see yourself one of its champions, even though a lot of other people, from Maryland to California, don't see you that way. Since your company showed up on the U.S. racing scene, it's been, shall we say, a bumpy ride.

It can only get better, but you need to be a player, Mr. Frank Stronach.

You can't be a pouty baby.

First, with regard to this whole Question A business in Maryland: You might not be very fond of David Cordish, but he played by the rules, put up his millions for the slots license in Anne Arundel County when you didn't, and he won the referendum battle. Why be mad? Once his casino is up and running, Mr. Cordish will share a ton of the revenue with you. You're going to get plenty of money to fix up your tracks and fatten the purses so that more and better horses run at Laurel — on that beautiful turf track you built — and Pimlico.

This is a boost long overdue for the horse racing industry. One of the leading breeders in the state told me the other day that things are so bad — with slots revenue bolstering the competition from tracks in Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — that the term "Maryland-bred" is on the verge of becoming anachronism. The purses are bigger in those other states, and those states sweeten the pot even more for horses bred there. I was told that some breeders have had to euthanize more yearlings and some of their older broodmares because the market for Maryland horses is so bad.

Maryland is no longer even mentioned among the top states for foals each year. The top five are Kentucky, Florida, California, Louisiana and New York. Pennsylvania now ranks sixth, with a 22 percent increase in foals between September 2009 and September 2010, according to The Jockey Club, the breed registry for thoroughbreds.

So the last thing this beleaguered Maryland industry needs is you being a cry baby and saying you're going to shut Laurel and keep a short meet at Pimlico.

Man up, Mr. Frank Stronach!

We all understand that you would like to have had everything — the slots revenue plus all the money slated to go to track improvements and purses.

But, come on. Don't be so greedy.

You have an opportunity to create a tremendous legacy — to get some of this money from slots and pour it into the tracks and the purses, revive the breeding industry (so they don't have to put down so many yearlings and broodmares) and return Maryland to its leading position among horses states.

If I were you, Mr. Frank Stronach, I'd contact Kevin Plank, the president and CEO of Under Armour. Not only is he a smart businessman, his horse just came in. One of his fillies from historic Sagamore Farm, Shared Account, beat huge odds at the Breeders' Cup. Here's a guy genuinely interested in reviving racing in Maryland. You should give him a call and build something together, including your legacy.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of Midday with Dan Rodricks on WYPR, 88.1 FM

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