10/19/2011 3:21PM

Maryland Jockey Club, horsemen again in dispute over dates

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The Maryland Jockey Club and the state’s horsemen are engaged again in a dispute over the appropriate number of racing dates at the MJC’s two racetracks, Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, with the two sides far apart on a schedule for 2012.

The dispute has reemerged 10 months after the two sides reached a state-brokered agreement to run 146 dates in 2011. Now, the MJC is insisting again that its two tracks cannot support that number of dates, with horsemen resisting any effort to pare the schedule.

Tom Chuckas, the president of the MJC, said that the company is willing to run 40 dates at Pimlico in 2012, and no more. As part of the MJC’s proposal, the MJC offered to lease Laurel Park to the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, but the association rejected the idea. Alan Foreman, the legal counsel to the group, said the lease proposal is a “non-starter.”

On Tuesday, the Maryland Racing Commission appointed one of its commissioners, John McDaniel, to act as a mediator in the dispute. Race dates have to be approved by the commission by the end of 2011.

The agreement reached at the end of last year requires 146 live race dates in order for the MJC to use subsidies from the state’s casinos for operating funds. Chuckas said that the MJC, which is owned by the privately held Stronach Group, is prepared to turn down an estimated $6 million in subsidies for 2012 in order to pare the dates.

“We’re talking about the company’s financial viability versus the horsemen’s desire to have a 146-day, year-round racing circuit,” Chuckas said. “The problem is that the year-round racing circuit is not viable.”

Chuckas would not provide details about the lease proposal or which dates Pimlico would run. Foreman said, however, that Pimlico intended to run two meets, one in the spring surrounding the highly profitable Preakness Stakes, and the other in the fall.

“What Stronach wants to do is take all the profits from the Preakness and the prime fall dates and leave us with the rest,” Foreman said. “That’s a disaster for Maryland racing.”