12/14/2012 3:31PM

Maryland horsemen, tracks make 10-year deal


Maryland racing interests have reached an agreement on a 10-year deal that will guarantee at least 100 live racing dates at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course and provide horsemen with year-round stabling at the two tracks, racetrack officials and horsemen announced Friday.

Although the deal requires the two tracks to host a minimum of 100 live racing dates each year until 2022, Alan Foreman, the legal counsel for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said that Laurel and Pimlico will actually race “at least 146” live racing days each year for the next 10 years, because of a provision that allows horsemen to underwrite a portion of the costs for dates above 100.

“You can anticipate that we’re going to run 146 dates during the entire life of the contract,” Foreman said.

The deal, which had been in negotiations for months, promises to bring long-term stability to the Maryland racing circuit for the first time in the past several years. Over the past three years, horsemen and the tracks have clashed over the proper number of live racing dates for the state circuit, with the tracks pushing for as few as 55 days a year. There has been friction as well over the horsemen’s insistence that one or more of the tracks remain open for stabling at some time during the year.

The new deal will require Laurel and Pimlico to remain open for training and stabling year-round beginning in 2014, with a minimum of 1,900 stalls between the two tracks, according to officials for both sides. Under the deal, the tracks’ owner, the Stronach Group, will be allowed to close the Bowie Training Center, but not until 300 additional stalls have been added at Laurel Park, which sits midway between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.

“Stability is the key word,” said Tom Chuckas, president of the tracks. “You’re going to have year-round racing, and you’re going to have year-round stabling.”

Government officials in Maryland have pressed the sides to come to a long-term agreement over the last several years, citing the legislature’s decision two years ago to allow Laurel and Pimlico to use their share of revenue from casinos in the state for operating expenses, rather than capital expenditures, as initial legislation required.

Chuckas said that the tracks will submit a plan to the legislature and state racing commission by Feb. 1 outlining plans to renovate the tracks. That deadline was set by legislation passed earlier this year in order to demonstrate that the tracks were working to improve their facilities.

Chuckas said he could not comment on the renovations that are planned until the proposal was submitted. He did say, however, that Pimlico, the home of the Preakness Stakes, will likely receive front-side renovations.

“Pimlico is historic, but in fairness it needs certain things,” Chuckas said. “It needs amenities for our guests.”

Horsemen also receive a cut of the casino revenue, and they are hopeful that the subsidies will make Maryland purses competitive with neighboring states where tracks also receive casino subsidies, such as West Virginia and Delaware. Foreman said, however, that the horsemen will seek to strike a balance with the subsidies so that the purses do not rise to a daily level that legislators might view as outsized.

“We don’t want purses to get too huge, where you’ve got government entities looking at it and saying there’s too much money being given away here,” Foreman said.