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Horsemen tie simulcasting to Pimlico MTHA wants winter training there, rejects De Francis bid


The Board of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association voted last night to shut down all simulcasting at the state's flat tracks if management closes Pimlico Race Course next month for winter training.

The move came despite a last-ditch offer by Laurel-Pimlico operator Joe De Francis to keep one side of the Pimlico stabling area open during the winter months.

De Francis made his proposal contingent upon MTHA president Richard Hoffberger selecting a six-person committee to negotiate, with bonding arbitration powers, deals concerning inter-track wagering with the Rosecroft harness track and proposed off-track betting facilities.

The board not only rejected De Francis' offer, but voted to shut down simulcasting on the day the Pimlico stable area is closed. Management had tentatively scheduled to shut the facility in mid-November, citing the need to save money.

"Why should we negotiate for something we all need [keeping Pimlico open]?" said MTHA board member Jerry Robb. "I've been in 20 meetings with Joe De Francis and he's lied to me 20 times. There should be no more simulcasting until this situation [the Pimlico issue] is resolved. The only power we [the horsemen] have is simulcasting."

Other MTHA board members said they thought De Francis's offer to keep Pimlico open was an effort by the executive "to save face" and thought it should be considered.

De Francis, when reached for comment last night, said he was "stunned" by the MTHA vote.

"It's my sincerest hope that tonight's action doesn' represent how the majority of the horsemen feel, because, if it does, then there is no future for the racing industry in Maryland," he said.

"It seems to me that the MTHA is being guided by a new coalition of radical elements embodied by Jerry Robb and a Manfuso clique that want to oppose every initiative that I make. These people are hellbent on destroying the industry. [Last night's] vote is the biggest act of lunacy I've seen. We've got an industry in grave jeopardy. In addition to other problems, we've got the new threat of Keno. The state is looking for revenue under any rock they can find, and they have to be saying after this why should they help an industry that's bent on self destruction?

"Reasonable people have got to get together and work out solutions to our problems, but I'm beginning to wonder if that's possible."

Hoffberger said that management had received stall applications for 1,946 horses for the fall-winter meet, about 350 more horses than management had anticipated.

But even Hoffberger said he had padded his number of horses in an effort to make it look as if the track needed to keep a third stable area (Pimlico) open for the winter.

The board voted 10-0, with one abstention, on Robb's motion, seconded by John Merryman, to shut down simulcasting.

MTHA board member Rick Myer said shutting down simulcasting, including the lucrative commingling operation that averages about $500,000 a day at 12 different tracks, would cost the horsemen about $10,000 daily.

Under contract with management, all simulcasting agreements must be approved by the MTHA. The track also nets about $10,000 a day from simulcasting fees.

Pimlico/Laurel general manager Jim Mango said last night that if simulcasting is shut down "we will see purses go down by 25 percent. We will have to lay off 25 percent of the work force. It will endanger the contracts with the commingling tracks we have worked so hard to get. It will disappoint the people who have supported us as an industry legislatively. It will move Maryland about three or four steps backward on a national level.

"What people need to understand is that with all things we have been doing -- working feverishly to open a couple of OTB places, the Rosecroft inter-track deal, Tote matters, union matters, horsemen matters, it is all being done for the good of the entire industry. The track is last on the list."

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