At Tuesday's meeting of the Maryland Racing Commission, chairman Bruce Quade made what seemed to be an innocuous request.
It has been six months since Maryland's horsemen, breeders and tracks reached an unprecedented 10-year agreement to ensure racing could take advantage of slots revenue. Quade, eager to keep legislators in Annapolis appraised of how the sport is using that subsidy, suggested having the parties involved meet regularly and share status updates.
He turned to the audience, seeking comment from the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.
The group's longtime lawyer, Alan Foreman, spoke quickly: "No comment."
That exchange was the only public glimpse of a feud that continues to roil after Quade passed a new incentive program for Maryland-bred horses at last month's meeting. Foreman believes Quade did so hastily and possibly illegally (the commission's counsel, however, believes it was within its rights to change the way purse money is disbursed).
Foreman said his clients had not decided whether they would fight the passage of the program. They will meet Wednesday night to discuss the matter, at which time he will "present them with all their options." That could include filing a lawsuit, seeking intervention from lawmakers or brokering a compromise, he said.
Foreman was careful to say he believes improving Maryland's breeding program is a worthy cause that the horsemen -- many of whom are also breeders -- support. At issue, he said, is the process. A task force formed by Quade sought input from the horsemen -- and others -- but then synthesized it into a final program, which was introduced and voted on in one fell swoop last month.
Continued cooperation behind the scenes would have led to a better result, Foreman said. The horsemen stand to lose a small amount of money from their primary purse account to support new bonuses set aside for owners of Maryland horses, and feel that the commission's move to manipulate that pool of money sets a dangerous precedent.
"That's not typically been the role of the commission," said Foreman, who served as the commission's lawyer in the early 1980s before starting his own practice. Quade felt delays in approving the breeding initiatives would have been harmful to the sport. While the current breeding season was basically over last month, the long-term nature of the business means outfits are already making plans for next year.
Foreman and Quade had an hour-long discussion after the meeting and are hoping to avoid souring the relationship between the four entities with a stake in Maryland racing.
Quade's request to have the horsemen, breeders and tracks -- Quade is hopeful that members of the Stronach Group's executive team could attend meetings -- gather regularly and report back to the commission was tabled until next month.
The commission clearly feels a push to implement some sort of oversight plan for the 10-year-deal. Those in the horse racing business have long feared the purse account will be raided by politicians who don't believe the money is helping the state. Showing a broad impact, with farms back up and running and more foals born in the state, is widely believed to be the best way to do that.
As has so often been the case, though, the powers that control Maryland racing are arguing about how to get there. It is up to the horsemen to decide how important the fight is this time.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun