LAUREL -- A proposal to charge stall rents at each of Maryland's mile thoroughbred tracks on a rotational basis met with a mixed reception yesterday at a meeting of owners and trainers.
The horsemen convened at a conference room of a local motel to find ways to finance the cost of keeping Pimlico Race Course open for training during the upcoming winter months.
Management announced earlier this week that it was closing the facility for about 4 1/2 months on Nov. 1 as a cost-cutting measure. The move sparked a two-day boycott of the Laurel entry box by Pimlico-based trainers. The boycott ended yesterday after representatives of the Pimlico trainers met with track officials Wednesday and agreed to try to come up with a workable solution.
The idea to charge stall rents was presented by Timothy Boyce, a trainer who has sought ways to keep Pimlico open.
Under the plan, trainers at Laurel, Pimlico and Bowie Training Center would pay a $4 a day of stall rental for each horse during a rotating four-month period. The fee would only be applicable when one of the those tracks was designated a training center facility. However, each time a horse ran, he would earn a one-month rent-free credit.
"For a claiming outfit, essentially it would mean no charge," Boyce said. "But for a trainer developing 2-year-olds, he would have to pay."
However, each 2-year-old that made his first start would earn a four-month rent-free credit. The bulk of the fees would be paid by non-running horses, which currently tie up stalls at track expense, which is a pet peeve of management.
The plan is similar to one now in operation at Delaware Park.
Boyce did not say how much money the move would generate.
"Some people liked the plan. Some people liked only parts of it. Others didn't like it all," Boyce said.
One fear among horsemen is that if trainers are expected to share in stabling costs, it could set a precedent, and then horsemen might also be required to share in other costs that have historically been paid by management.
The Pimlico horsemen have now sought the help of their colleagues stabled at Laurel and Bowie and turned to the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association to represent them in dealings with track management.
A 10-person committee with representatives at each track was set up to fine-tune cost-cutting proposals and to get the input of a wide sampling of trainers. The committee consists of Katy Voss, Ferris Allen and Josephine Owens of Laurel; Tim Boyce, Ann Merryman and Billy Christmas of Pimlico; and Jerry Robb, Berkley Kern, Linda Gaudet and Frank Weiss of Bowie.
The committee will report to the MTHA board of directors by the next scheduled meeting, Sept. 1. The board then will adopt a final proposal to present to track management.
If there is no acceptable solution and management still is unwilling to keep Pimlico open, there has been talk of a boycott by trainers stabled at all three tracks or a move by the MTHA to end its simulcast agreement with management. Such a move could then bring the racing commission and possibly the Governor and legislature into the discussions.
Other ways to save money also have been considered. Owners could pay to ship their horses on the shuttle van from a training center facility to the track currently running. Management now picks up that tab, which amounts to about $300,000 annually. The $25 or $30 cost for each shuttle ride would be deducted from an owner's account, similar to the way jockey and pony fees are paid.
Trainers shipping their own horses on their private vans or trailers would not be assessed.
Proposals to rent training facilities at places such as Timonium Race Course or Sagamore Farm during Pimlico's 4 1/2 -month hiatus apparently have not been met with much enthusiasm.
It would cost $138,000 to rent 232 stalls, 42 tack rooms and use of the track at Timonium for the 4 1/2 months. But there might be a problem with winterizing the Timonium track.
It would cost approximately $130,000 to rent 150-160 stalls plus use of the training track at Sagamore Farm. But the Sagamore track is not suitable for fast workouts, according to trainers, and would require a daily shuttle van service to ship horses to Laurel for such training procedures.
Boyce said that all of these measures are considered a "tough times" deal.
"If the handle went up [over the current $1.5 million daily average to $1.6 million], if OTB eventually kicked in, then there would be enough money to keep all three training facilities open without these kind of measures," Boyce said.