09/10/2014 12:32PM

Keefe takes helm at Maryland horsemen’s group


Winds of change are blowing in Maryland racing circles, as trainer Tim Keefe has been named the new president of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the 15-person board of directors has seven new members.

Keefe is only the third president of the MTHA since the organization was founded in 1987. Richard Hoffberger was president from 1987 until he resigned in 2012, at which time Richard Meyer took over.

Maryland racing has begun to rebound in recent years as the industry’s share of gaming revenue in the state is helping purses and the breeding industry. In December 2012, the horsemen also reached a 10-year agreement with the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Laurel Park, Pimlico, and the Bowie Training Center for the Stronach Group.

The agreement calls for the Maryland Jockey Club to race 100 days a year and for horsemen to buy any additional racing days by the month. This year, the circuit will race 146 days.

The Maryland Jockey Club also has agreed to build 300 additional stalls at Laurel Park.

While acknowledging there are a lot of positive things going on, Keefe said there is much work to be done.

“Our goal is to get together with the Maryland Horse Breeders board and to improve our relationship with track ownership,” he said. “But we also have this beautiful turf course at Laurel that we don’t utilize enough, we want to start getting the barns built, and we want to bring more people out to the track.”

The most pressing issue centers around 2015 racing dates. This year, the MJC put on two meets, one at Pimlico in the spring (April 3 to June 7) and the Laurel meet, which began last week (Sept. 5 to Dec. 31). The horsemen paid for a winter meet at Laurel, which ran from Jan. 1 through March 30.

That meet, the first subsidized by the horsemen, was hampered by harsh winter weather that affected business, raised utility costs, and prevented the turf course from being used. The schedule also meant that there was no major racing in Maryland from early June to early September. That Colonial Downs in Virginia didn’t race this year exacerbated the situation.

“It’s difficult to ship around all summer. We’d like to get some August dates so we can utilize the turf course,” Keefe said. “The months in question are January, February, August, and December. The horsemen can’t afford to pay for four months, so if we race in August, what do we give up? That’s the question.”

Also, Pimlico and Laurel are both old facilities in need of capital improvements. According to Keefe, all did not go perfectly at Laurel last week.

“We had a disappointing opening,” Keefe said. “The air conditioning wasn’t working. There was no restaurant on opening day, no video board on opening day. We want to start getting this stuff done.”

◗ Linda Gaudet and R. Larry Johnson will serve as vice presidents on the board. Michael Horning is the treasurer. All terms are for three years.

Owners: Christine Bricker, Ellen Charles, JoAnn Hayden, Michael Horning, R. Larry Johnson, Robert Manfuso, and Charles Reed.

Trainers: A. Ferris Allen III, Dale Capuano, Linda Gaudet, Tim Keefe, Lawrence Murray, Graham Motion, Michael Trombetta, and Katharine Voss.