11/06/2015 1:32PM

Future of Maryland racing will be discussed at public meeting

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This has been a year of change in Maryland racing, and on Nov. 20, the Maryland Jockey Club will hold a town-hall meeting at Laurel Park to discuss its future plans.

A summer meet was added at Laurel Park this year, and the racing schedule has been trimmed to three days a week since July as The Stronach Group, which owns Laurel and Pimlico Race Course, moves toward a year-round racing schedule.

Numerous capital improvements have been made at Laurel, both on the front side and the backstretch. The second of three new barns – each with 150 stalls – is under construction, and a fourth building that will contain wash stalls, locker rooms, and a laundry facility is planned. The total cost for the backstretch project is estimated at $7 million.

The first floor of the Laurel grandstand has had new flooring and seating installed, and concession areas and bars have been modernized. Simulcast wagering areas have been renovated and hundreds of flat-screen televisions purchased. The Maryland Jockey Club simulcast signal is now high definition.

While these improvements have been underway, Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, and Sal Sinatra, general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, have been working on a long-term master plan for racing in the state.

The town-hall meeting, which is open to the public, will be in the Carriage Room at Laurel at 6 p.m. Ritvo, outgoing Maryland Racing Commission chairman Bruce Quade, and Alan Foreman, general counsel of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, are scheduled to speak.

A topic certain to come up is The Stronach Group’s plans for Pimlico, the nation’s second-oldest racetrack and the home of the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Pimlico, which holds a nine-week spring meet, is located in a less-affluent area of Baltimore than Laurel, located midway between Baltimore and Washington, and the question of whether the area needs, or can afford, two racetracks has been raised.

On a more regional matter, there has been resistance to a plan to move the Laurel train station 2,500 feet from its longtime location on Main Street to Laurel Park, where a mixed-use development and 1,000-car parking garage would be built.

◗ According to Maryland Jockey Club officials, handle in the state is up $53 million for the year compared with 2014. The offtrack betting parlor, which opened May 1 at the Horseshoe Casino in downtown Baltimore, has surpassed expectations and handled more than $5 million so far.