The steadily shrinking horse population at Maryland thoroughbred tracks probably will mean a shortened race week for local racing fans.
By mid- or late November, management at Laurel Race Course expects to cut back from a five-day to four-day race week.
Track operator Joe De Francis expects only 1,500 horses to be stabled at Laurel and Bowie Training Center by late fall and winter. This meager number of horses explains why De Francis says it is not necessary for Pimlico to remain open as a training facility. The two tracks and Bowie Training Center can accommodate 2,700 horses.
"We take a definitive count of the horse population twice a year -- in July, when the new 2-year-olds are practically all on the grounds, and then in January, when we traditionally have the smallest number of horses in training," he said.
Right now, there are 1,906 horses at the track, enough to run 47 "live" races a week -- nine races plus one simulcast from an out-of-state track on weekdays and 10 races plus two simulcasts on weekends and holidays.
"We lose about 15 percent of our horse population from summer to winter. If this pattern continues, we will have to drop seven or eight races per week, or run just 40 live races this winter," De Francis said.
He leans toward running on four days with fuller fields than on five days with fewer horses in each race and more simulcasts.
"It would be fine if we could go out and recruit horses," De Francis said. "But there aren't any to recruit. Virtually every track in the country faces the same problem."
Charles Town Race Track in Charles Town, W. Va., is an example close to home. Two weeks ago, track management cut back to a four-day race week. Horsemen there think that by the start of the professional football season, the track will be forced to eliminate Sunday racing and then only conduct racing three days a week.