Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. hosted the owners and trainers of Preakness Stakes winner Afleet Alex at the governor's mansion yesterday, pledging to help Maryland's struggling racing industry by continuing to push for slot machines at tracks.
"I want there to be a future for horse racing in this state," he said. "You could not have a more supportive administration."
Last month's Preakness was run under a cloud of speculation that Canada-based Magna Entertainment Corp., the majority owners of Pimlico Race Course, might move the race to another track in a state where purses are supplemented by slots.
Afleet Alex is based in Delaware, where slots are legal.
"I live in Maryland, and I would like to race in Maryland," said Tim Ritchey, trainer of the Preakness winner. "The only thing I can see as the answer is slot machines."
Ehrlich has made passing a slots bill a priority but has been unable to persuade the General Assembly to accept his proposal. This year, the House of Delegates and the Senate each passed slots bills but did not reconcile their differences.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Annapolis Democrat, has been the most prominent slots skeptic. Busch does not want racetrack owners to receive a government-created windfall when he says they have done little to improve their product.
Ehrlich said he was chagrined that he had to answer repeated questions about the future of the Preakness. "With just a little cooperation from across the street, I won't ever have to answer that question again," Ehrlich said, referring to the Assembly.