12/14/2005 12:00AM

Dates compromise looks near


Approval Tuesday by the Maryland Racing Commission of Laurel Park's request for 75 days of live racing in the first four months of 2006 was part of a larger compromise on racing dates for next year that has yet to be fully worked out.

The approval came one day after Magna Entertainment Corp., the owner of Laurel and Pimlico Race Course, presented a plan for 180 days of live racing in Maryland during 2006 to representatives of Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association on Monday night. The groups have been negotiating over live racing days in 2006 for three months.

The new proposal also keeps barns at Laurel, Pimlico, and the Bowie Training Center open and asks horsemen for substantial contributions to help cover operating costs.

Boards of the horsemen's and breeders' associations will vote on the plan next week. The only stumbling block may be Magna's request that the horsemen help defray the tracks' expenses.

Under the plan approved Tuesday, the Laurel winter meeting will run from Jan. 1 through April 16 and include 30 simulcast-only days. The commission will consider the full 2006 plan at its next meeting, on Jan. 10, if the tracks and horsemen's groups have reached a compromise.

At Monday's meeting, the commission's chairman, John McDaniel, complimented all sides for working toward a final 2006 plan.

"I, for one, am delighted by the cooperation," McDaniel said.

Joe De Francis, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates the tracks and in which Magna Entertainment holds majority ownership, and Don Amos, Magna's chief operating officer, formulated the proposal. Their plan jelled after conversations with Wayne Wright, executive secretary of the horsemen's group; Alan Foreman, counsel to the horsemen; and Crickett Goodall, the executive director of the breeders' association. Those discussions came at the University of Arizona's racing symposium last week.

"I think the proposal evolved because everyone recognizes the importance of being willing to compromise for industry unity and cohesiveness at one of the most critical times in the history of Thoroughbred racing in Maryland," De Francis said.

Three months ago, Magna asked the commission to approve 112 days of live Maryland racing in 2006, the permanent closing of Bowie, and the closing of the barns at Laurel and Pimlico for about four months. Horsemen had opposed the plan.

Wright and Foreman cautioned that the current proposal is not a done deal. The proposal will go to the horsemen's association board without a recommendation.

Goodall said that, while there may not be a statement of support when the horsemen's board meets, the plan would not be presented if the leadership did not find it a reasonable approach with a chance of working.