09/14/2005 12:00AM

Concern heard in Maryland

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Maryland's horsemen and breeders urged the Maryland Racing Commission on Tuesday to stop Magna Entertainment Corp. from implementing a plan that would close down Thoroughbred racing in the state from mid-May through October next year.

After more than 90 minutes of horsemen's testimony - mostly about how Magna's plan nearly to halve the state's racing dates would kill horse racing in Maryland - the commission voted to take up the proposal again at its Oct. 6 meeting.

After the meeting, commissioner Alvin Akman said, "I think it highly unlikely the Magna proposal will pass as is. I hope there are still areas to explore on both sides."

During Tuesday's meeting at Laurel Park, Wayne Wright, executive secretary of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, and Alan Foreman, legal counsel for the group, pointed out that horsemen already have an operating agreement with Laurel and Pimlico - an agreement assumed by Magna when it bought controlling interest three years ago - that calls for five days of racing each week for no fewer than 220 days a year. Magna has proposed running 112 days in 2006.

The Maryland Jockey Club's president and chief executive officer, Joe De Francis, said he was sympathetic to the horsemen, but that Magna's plan is "our best effort" to keep Maryland racing viable.

"This is a business plan," De Francis said. "It is not a negotiable document."