Vote to stop simulcasts causes stir De Francis calls decision by horsemen "irresponsible"


LAUREL -- Horsemen who voted on Thursday night to shut down simulcasting operations at Maryland thoroughbred tracks might be having second thoughts.

Richard Hoffberger, president of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said he is disappointed in the actions of his own board and doesn't think "they understood the ramifications of what they did. Four of the 10 members that voted told me afterward they were sorry they voted the way they did or didn't like what we had done. I didn't talk to everyone."

Hoffberger said he did not vote "because the president [of the organization] only votes in case of a tie."

The panel of horsemen, representing about 3,000 Maryland owners and trainers, voted 10-0, with one abstention, to shut down simulcasting, including lucrative commingling contracts with as many as 12 out-of-state outlets, if track operator Joe De Francis follows through with a plan to close the barn area at Pimlico Race Course next month for winter training.

Simulcasting will stop the day Pimlico is closed. Under state law, simulcasting agreements must be approved by the horsemen.

Hoffberger came up with an alternative plan, endorsed by De Francis, that would have allowed one side of the Pimlico barn area to stay open if a six-person committee, composed of MTHA board members, approved deals involving inter-track wagering with Rosecroft Raceway and off-track betting facilities.

But that plan was never brought to a vote.

De Francis said yesterday he still plans to shut down Pimlico by mid-November, "and I'll continue to simulcast races, in and out of state, until I get a court order to shut them down. But if I do get a court order, I will also shut down the inter-track betting facility at Pimlico for the winter. If that's what they [the horsemen] want, to cut back and retrench, then that's what we'll do."

De Francis estimated that closing the simulcast operations will cost the horsemen about $25,000 a day in purses, both in current and projected simulcasting contracts.

He said simulcasting brought in $1.5 million to the purse account in 1991 and will bring in about $2.5 million this year.

"Without it, we couldn't have a program like the Super Saturday card we are having today," he said.

De Francis said he hopes the decision of the MTHA board "doesn't represent the majority of horsemen. I hope when owners and trainers realize how much this is going to cost them they will go to MTHA board members and tell them they aren't going to sit still for this kind of irresponsible action. It's lunacy."

Racing commissioner Allan Levey expressed concern yesterday about the impasse between horsemen and management.

"I thought Hoffberger's agreement [with De Francis] was an ideal compromise," he said. "I realize there are lots of other problems and a lot of different personalities involved. But that has got to be put aside. We have to get moving on OTB. The future of the industry is at stake."

Hoffberger said, "Horsemen don't like the way management is doing a lot of things. But the thing is, now, we are going to blow $25,000 a day in purses. I think under the deal I presented, we could have sat down and talked [with management]. Doing an OTB deal is just not that tough. Under current arrangements, the person operating an OTB parlor gets X amount of dollars and the track and horsemen split the difference. As for Rosecroft inter-tracking, we had already agreed to a 90-day experiment."

Hoffberger added that a special MTHA board meeting can be called to reconsider the issue "if enough board members request it. But right now, I don't know how this thing will shake out."

NOTES: Edgar Prado won four races at Laurel yesterday, including the feature with Jo Lo's Joy. The race was switched from the grass to the dirt track because of heavy rain. . . . The state of Virginia offers its second pari-mutuel betting card today at the Morven Park Steeplechases near Leesburg. Post time for the 11-race card is 12:30 p.m. De Francis said he expects virtually no impact from the Virginia competition. "I think we're going to have a big day with our Super Saturday program," he said.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad