11/19/2003 12:00AM

Dispute in Maryland settled

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Representatives of Maryland's horsemen and officials of the Maryland Jockey Club worked out a deal on Wednesday to keep the stable area at Pimlico Race Course open during the winter, officials said late Wednesday.

Under the deal, Pimlico has agreed to keep the stable area open in exchange for the horsemen's vow to drop its plan to revoke approval for simulcasts. The horsemen also promised to support the MJC's effort to obtain approval for slots machines at its tracks in Maryland, according to a Pimlico racing official.

In addition, the MJC and horsemen have agreed to hold discussions over the next several months in order to iron out several problems that have put the two sides at odds, including how many starts trainers should make each year per stall. The two sides also agreed to work more cooperatively in the future.

The deal will seemingly put to rest a bitter fight between horsemen and management that had recently threatened to spill over to racing fans if it was not resolved by the end of the month. Last week, the board of directors of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which represents Maryland's trainers and owners, had voted 11-1 to rescind its approval for simulcasting in the state effective Nov. 30 if the MJC did not reconsider the closing of Pimlico. That would have robbed Maryland racing fans of the ability to wager on races in other states.

Aside from fans' concerns, the suspension of simulcasting would have also had a damaging impact on the racing industry. More than 70 percent of all wagers in Maryland are made on simulcast races, with the revenues split between the track and horsemen.

The MJC told trainers a month ago that it was considering closing Pimlico from Nov. 29 until March 1 in order to save $700,000. Trainers had vociferously objected to the plan, but Pimlico went ahead with the decision after the Maryland Racing Commission decided not to interfere in the conflict.

Trainers said that the closing at Pimlico would force them to lay off workers and create undue hardships. The situation was further exacerbated by the MJC's recent decision to evict some trainers, citing the trainers' poor records in starting their stabled horses at Maryland tracks.