Updated on 09/15/2011 12:29PM

Maryland drops 22 stakes


The Maryland Jockey Club has slashed 22 stakes races worth $1.7 million from its program the rest of the year at Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park. The Maryland Racing Commission approved the drastic cuts at its monthly meeting Wednesday at the Timonium Fairgrounds.

The eliminated stakes for at least this year include six graded stakes, the Anne Arundel Stakes, Laurel Dash, Laurel Futurity, Laurel Turf Cup, Martha Washington Stakes, and Safely Kept Stakes. All carried purses of $100,000.

The Laurel Futurity, first run in 1921, has been won by four of the sport's 11 Triple Crown winners: Count Fleet, Citation, Secretariat and Affirmed.

The Maryland Jockey Club also gained approval yesterday to drop Sunday racing for nine consecutive Sundays, beginning Sept. 9.

Eliminating the races was necessary because the General Assembly refused in April to renew a $10 million grant to the racing industry. For four years, Maryland had allocated that money as a way to help horse racing without having to legalize slots, which subsidize purses at Delaware and West Virginia tracks. Gov. Parris N. Glendening is a staunch opponent of slot machines.

The main reason for halting the grants, lawmakers said, was that Maryland's horse racing industry was so fraught with dissension and mistrust that it had come to rely on state assistance and had become incapable of helping itself.

John Franzone, who was appointed by Glendening as chairman of the commission, has been outspoken in his criticism of track owners, trainers, horse owners, and breeders for their inability to agree on needed changes. Franzone has clashed publicly with officials of the Maryland Jockey Club over what he perceives as foot-dragging.

The Maryland Jockey Club, the parent company of Pimlico and Laurel Park, has already cut purses of some nonstakes races. Lou Raffetto Jr., chief operating officer of the MJC, said additional cuts in purses this year and stakes races next year will be required.

Tim Capps, executive vice president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, said of the stakes cuts: "I sense an increased urgency, an increased desire for a dialogue. It's almost as if the legislature was telling us, 'Heal yourself. Come back to us and tell us you've made peace on these issues, and then we'll help you.' "

Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, chairman of the Finance Committee, said yesterday that he could see the commission's move coming. "I can't think we did a very wise thing by more or less letting racing go down the tubes," he said. "When you consider the great history we have in racing in this state, it's shameful."