"They're as good as anywhere and might be the best," said Mike Trombetta, a Maryland native who stables at Laurel, Fair Hill and South Florida. "He has spent money to make sure the horses are healthy and can train all the time."
Stronach has invested heavily in Florida's Gulfstream Park, just north of Miami, and recently announced plans to build grandstands that could host 65,000 people, two hotels and a free-standing casino there. Stronach hopes to race year-round at the facility to draw people to nearby retail developments he owns.
But somebody else owns the casinos in Maryland, and Stronach does not have related businesses near the tracks.
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Downsizing and refreshing the tracks is one option. Laurel Park draws large crowds only two days a year, while Pimlico attracts crowds only the week of the Preakness.
Thousands of seats were torn out of Gulfstream Park in the last decade to make for a more intimate viewing experience from restaurants and updated boxes. The proposed new grandstands reflect Stronach's desire to attract the lucrative Breeders Cup.
While awaiting a decision on the long-term future of the tracks, Chuckas has brainstormed ideas for attracting more people. Upgrading the feel of the viewing areas is a priority but would take money. For example, replacing those old televisions would cost around $600,000.
So he has tried to think of creative ways to keep his core audience happy and build a new one. He envisions a future where concerts, wine festivals and bourbon tastings attract a younger crowd to the races for the first time. He has developed programs to educate new fans on reading the racing form and understanding how to bet. And he's shifted about 15 percent of his marketing budget toward social media campaigns.
"We've got to bring people in whenever we can, and we've got to make racing easier to understand and appreciate," he said. "There is no home run, no magic wand."
Encouraging more foals
Capuano once regularly trained 80 horses. That number has dwindled to about 30, as shrinking purses and a bad economy scared off many owners and breeders in Maryland.
But purses at Laurel during the 2012 fall meet averaged more than $240,000, not counting the meet's two biggest dayseach worth more than $1 million. In 2011, purses averaged only about $160,000.
"We're running for more than ever before," Trombetta said. "Now we just need to have the stock to match the demand."
In 1991, more than 1,700 foals were born in Maryland. That number fell all the way to 378 in 2011. That 78 percent drop far outpaced the national decline of 37 percent.
A racing commission task force put in place by Quade has suggested increasing the amount of bonus money available for winning Maryland-bred horses, and is devising a plan now to shift existing funds toward that goal.
"That was the intent of having slots, to put more money into the horse racing industry in Maryland," Quade said. "That doesn't mean the money goes to the people racing in Maryland; it needs to be spread out to everyone who supports the industry. It needs to create jobs and help people make a living in the state."