06/11/2007 11:00PM

Maryland tracks cut purse funds


The Maryland Jockey Club, owner of Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, will reduce every race purse by $2,000 for each of its 78 remaining live racing days this year and will also take $1 million out of its stakes schedule as part of a broad plan to reduce expenses, the MJC said Tuesday.

Lou Raffetto, the president of the organization, said that the company has projected that the purse account at the tracks would face a $3 million deficit by the end of the year if the cuts were not put in place. The agreement to cut the purses was reached in consultation with the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which represents trainers and owners at the tracks.

The Maryland Jockey Club is owned by Magna Entertainment Corp., which has been aggressively lobbying for the right to operate slot machines at the two Maryland tracks for several years, contending that the state's racing is suffering from competition with racetrack-casinos in neighboring states. The issue of legalizing slots at racetracks has gained steam in Maryland as legislators and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley consider how to address a projected $1.5obillion budget shortfall this year.

Raffetto said that MJC officials have not yet determined which stakes will be targeted for purse cuts, but that the purses for Maryland Million Day, the Grade 1 De Francis Dash, and the Grade 3 Safely Kept Stakes were considered off-limits for any cuts.

In addition, the MJC is going to trim some live races from its remaining schedule, while maintaining the same number of race days. Racing resumes in Maryland on Aug. 10 at Laurel Park for a 10-day meet, and, after a short meet at Timonium fair grounds, will return to Laurel for 68 days on Sept. 5 through Dec. 29 on a four-day-a-week schedule.

"We're just in crisis mode right now," Raffetto said. "This will take us through the end of the year, and depending on whether or not we get a slots bill, we'll see what needs to be done in 2008."

In related news, the MJC said Tuesday that all-sources wagering during its recently concluded meet at Pimlico was down 7opercent from last year, to $236.9 million, contributing to the need to cut purses.