06/08/2004 11:00PM

Laurel closing to rebuild ovals

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BALTIMORE, Md. - The Maryland Racing Commission at a meeting at Pimlico on Tuesday narrowly gave the go-ahead to Magna Entertainment Corp., parent company of the Maryland Jockey Club, to begin rebuilding the turf and dirt tracks at Laurel Park, despite strong objections by horsemen.

The $10 million project involves widening the turf and dirt racing surfaces, removing one corner of the clubhouse, and relocating the paddock. The commission voted 4-3 to allow the project to begin, even though Magna officials said they had obtained only one of four permits needed to complete the work.

Under the plans, Laurel will close Monday for training, and most horses, trainers, and their employees will be relocated to Bowie, Pimlico, and Timonium for training.

Dale Capuano, a Laurel trainer and member of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said the logistics of moving entire operations on such short notice was a "nightmare."

Also at the meeting, Tom Chuckas Jr., the chief executive of Rosecroft Raceway, told commissioners that the harness track is on the verge of going out of business due to a simulcasting dispute between Rosecroft and the MJC.

Chuckas and other Rosecroft officials appeared before the commission asking for the right to offer simulcasting of Thoroughbred races at Rosecroft without compensating the state's Thoroughbred factions.

Commissioners did not rule on Rosecroft's request. Instead, they voted to take up the issue again next week at a meeting to be scheduled.

In the meantime, they said they would hire a financial expert to determine the impact of the simulcasting issue on the bottom lines of the Standardbred and Thoroughbred industries.

Since April 19, Rosecroft and the Thoroughbred breeders, horsemen, and track owners have been locked in the dispute. Rosecroft has not offered Thoroughbred simulcasting, and Pimlico and Laurel Park have been closing at 6:15 p.m., before the harness races begin.

The dispute has cost the Maryland Jockey Club $1.6 million in revenue and Rosecroft $1.7 million in revenue. Last year, Rosecroft lost $1.4 million, Chuckas told commissioners.

"Everyone's a loser," Chuckas said. "We constantly fight among ourselves. No one wins."