With the Maryland thoroughbred industry as close as ever to its demise, Gov. Martin O'Malley brokered a last-minute deal Wednesday that guarantees live racing next year at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course and ensures that the storied Preakness Stakes will continue here. Owners of the state's two major thoroughbred tracks and industry representatives for horse owners, breeders and trainers agreed to a framework that would enable the tracks to at least break even financially and run races on 146 days in 2011, the same as this year's schedule.The deal came during a one-hour meeting attended by O'Malley at the State House Wednesday morning - less than 24 hours after the various stakeholders traded contentious words Tuesday night at a meeting of the Maryland Racing Commission, which rejected a proposed shorter schedule for the second time in a month. By Wednesday afternoon, the racing commission unanimously approved the agreement, which calls for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association to contribute $1.7 million and the state to provide $3.5 million to $4 million to help pay for track operations. The state's contribution will be funded by slot-machine revenue earmarked for track improvements. Commissioner John McDaniel said of the agreement: "Obviously, it's much improved." While the racing industry's future is secure for next year, the horsemen and track owners say hard work remains to ensure the viability of a sport that has seen attendance and betting decline for at least a decade, especially as neighboring states opened casinos years before Maryland.
Jim McCue, Baltimore Sun