'Productive meeting' with De Francis prompts trainers to end Laurel boycott


Horsemen at Pimlico Race Course will not extend their two-day boycott of the Laurel entries after what was termed a "productive meeting" yesterday with track operator Joe De Francis.

"The concept of a boycott is finished," De Francis said after the 1 1/2 hour meeting with about eight Pimlico trainers.

The horsemen emerged from the discussions "remotely XTC optimistic" that either Pimlico will stay open for training through the winter or that an alternative site in the Baltimore area, such as the track and stables at Timonium Race Course, could be rented for training.

"Management told us that they don't care how we do it, but if the horsemen can come up with a plan that will save the $400,000 to $500,000 that it costs to keep Pimlico open, they will go along with it," said Timothy Boyce, a trainer who has been instrumental in the negotiations.

Boyce said co-operation from the horsemen at Laurel and Bowie will be needed for any plan to succeed.

"All horsemen have got to view this as an industry-wide problem," Boyce said. "If the Pimlico horsemen move into Laurel and Bowie, it's going to mean those horsemen are going to be shifted around and squeezed, too."

Boyce said that the horsemen who were in the meeting and De Francis agreed not to discuss specific proposals until they are presented to all the horsemen at two meetings.

The first meeting is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. today at the Holiday Inn in Laurel. The board of directors of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association will convene to discuss the Pimlico situation and have invited all Pimlico owners and trainers to attend.

The second meeting is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at the Pimlico track kitchen to further review the situation with trainers that are stabled on the grounds.

Cost-saving proposals could range from all trainers paying stall rent on the basis of starts per horse or sharing vanning expenses, which is now paid for solely by the tracks. In New Jersey, the interest from the horsemen's bookkeeper account has been used to help defray the cost of keeping track facilities open for training during the winter months.

"The horsemen are going to have some internal meetings and try to come up with a program to save money. There are a lot of creative minds at work," De Francis said. "But as far as I'm concerned, I'm not interested in charging rent for stalls or increasing the share of the horsemen's costs for simulcast fees."

Boyce said that after looking at the figures, he is satisfied that it does cost management between $400,000 to $500,000 to operate Pimlico for training during the four-month off-season. "In that respect, I think they [management] have been more than fair with us," he said.

A group of about 20 horsemen assembled outside Pimlico's executive offices yesterday before the meeting. But De Francis limited the discussions to just the group of trainers he had talked with last Saturday.

One exception was Mary Eppler, who entered her horses today and tomorrow and had received threats from her colleagues at Pimlico.

De Francis told the horsemen that if there are further threats to anyone at the track, he will shut it down immediately.

Owner-trainer Billy Christmas said he hopes that legislation can be introduced in the General Assembly next year that stipulates Pimlico stays open for year-round training.

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