Laurel/Pimlico operator Joe De Francis and the board of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association reached a compromise last night that will allow eight instead of seven live races to be run on weekdays once Laurel Park opens June 13.
The cuts, subject to review by both sides on June 27, mean that the guaranteed minimum of live races run each week will drop from 47 to 45. Eleven live races will be run on Saturdays and 10 on Sundays.
De Francis will go ahead with plans to adopt a 3 p.m. "twilight" post time during the summer meets at both Laurel and later at Pimlico Race Course.
De Francis had wanted to run seven live races on weekdays but agreed with the MTHA board to try eight for the first two weeks of the Laurel meet. Both sides will meet after a two-week trial basis to assess the situation and decide if it will continue.
De Francis said the live cuts are needed because during May, 36 percent of the live races at Pimlico drew fields of six or fewer horses and resulted in bettors channeling their wagers to out-of-state simulcasts. Live handle dropped 14.84 percent during that period.
"This is an emergency situation," De Francis said. "We can't let this trend continue."
However, horsemen expressed concerns that owners will have less opportunity to run their horses in Maryland and will be forced to ship them to run at out-of-state tracks.
"You are just going to make a bad situation worse," MTHA board member Josephine Owens told De Francis.
Owens, as well as board members Linda Gaudet and Ferris Allen, suggested that De Francis allow recent purse bonuses and the change of post time be tried and see if they help the field size and live handle grow.
De Francis and the majority of the board then agreed to the compromise.
The MTHA board also raised the specter of discontinuing inter-track and off-track betting programs with the state's harness tracks since the harness horsemen are working in partnership with a casino operator to purchase Rosecroft/Delmarva and spurned help from the thoroughbred industry to buy the tracks.