As tensions escalated between leaders of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and the chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission, executives of the Maryland Jockey Club said yesterday the rebuilding of the Laurel Park dirt track was nearly complete.
Lou Raffetto Jr., MJC chief operating officer, told commissioners at their monthly meeting at Laurel that the latest estimate for resuming racing at the Laurel track is Jan. 22. He said the latest estimate for opening the track for training is Dec. 26.
Richard Hoffberger and Wayne Wright, president and executive secretary, respectively, of the horsemen's association, which represents thoroughbred owners and trainers, continued to express concern about design flaws and faulty construction that delayed completion of the dirt track and put off completion of the turf course until next year.
"It's likely this track will fall apart," Hoffberger told commissioners. "The project has been flawed from the beginning. ... Virtually anything that could go wrong has gone wrong."
The commission voted, 4-3, in June to let the MJC and its parent company, Magna Entertainment Corp., proceed with the reconstruction after executives promised that the dirt and turf surfaces would be rebuilt in time for the Maryland Million in early October. Tom McDonough, commission chairman, was one of the four who voted in favor of the project.
Yesterday, Wright blamed McDonough for the "debacle," as Wright put it, of horses being stabled in tents at Pimlico, of horsemen still stabled at Laurel having no track to train on, of grooms being displaced, of fans being disgruntled, and of the loss of the prosperous Laurel fall-winter meet.
Wright's pointed accusation was the continuation of a growing rift with McDonough over assorted racing issues.
Finally, McDonough said he accepted blame for not having insisted upon an independent overseer for the project. However, he said he did not agree with the horsemen's dire predictions for the racing surface.
After the meeting, Wright said that he believed McDonough should resign from the commission. Told of Wright's comment, McDonough said he had no intention of resigning.
"I disagree with Wayne," McDonough said. "Everybody's entitled to their opinion."
Problems with rebuilding the tracks have centered on the soggy ground upon which the tracks are situated. The tracks sit atop a flood plain. Magna's workers have run into trouble trying to secure the foundation so that it supports a safe and level racing surface.
Ted Malloy, a track consultant from Florida working for Magna, said problems with the track's foundation will be resolved by this weekend and that the "cushion," the actual racing surface, will be put down next week.
"I know what a good racetrack is," Malloy said. "I'm trying to give you the best."
In other business, the commissioners heard Harry Manley, assistant services director of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 27, which represents track workers, complain about a cutback in the tracks' security force.
Manley described three robberies that had taken place recently inside Pimlico and in its parking lots. The commission agreed to take up the issue at its Jan. 11 meeting at Pimlico.