CAMBRIDGE -- The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and the Maryland Jockey Club have reached agreement on racing dates for the rest of this year and for all of 2007 as well.
Included in the agreement, approved yesterday at the Maryland Racing Commission's monthly meeting, are eight racing days at Laurel Park beginning Aug. 16, and not fewer than 10 days at Laurel Park in August 2007.
"That was very important to the horsemen," said Wayne Wright, executive secretary of the MTHA. "They didn't want to go three months through the summer without racing here. It's very important to their business and in terms of jobs."
The industry also agreed on 184 total days this year and next. That number represents a substantial increase from the 112 days suggested by Magna Entertainment Corp. in September that threw a scare into horsemen and breeders in the state.
The two sides also settled their differences over the horsemen's share of the expense of intertrack broadcasting, simulcasting and off-track betting.
The MTHA will pay 6 percent of the purse money from the first six months of 2004, but will be forgiven for the expenses of the second six-month period because of the hardship created by the reconstruction of the Laurel Park turf course. It will then pay 4.25 percent for 2005 and 4.75 percent in 2006 and 2007, which Wright estimated to be "not more than $2 million" per year.
"We're trying to do the best we can for our business," Wright said. "Patience will generally turn into some kind of a successful outcome in this industry. Here we ended up with 184 days, which is quite different from the original plan for 112 and even a few more than 180 that was being considered most of this year. It's all very positive for the horsemen."
Beginning Aug. 16, the track will also experiment with "twilight" racing, with races beginning at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. Weekend races will have the usual 1:10 p.m. starting time.
"I'm happy we've got a deal," said Lou Raffetto, president and chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club. "Would I have liked a greater percentage on the expenses? Sure. But it's important to step back and look at the big picture, which is getting a slots bill passed. We've shown the ability to give and take. And having reached the 15-year agreement with the harness industry makes this possible.
"People say, 'Why don't you try this or that?' and we haven't been able to because of the 6:15 p.m. rule that was in place [which gave the harness industry the rights to racing after 6:15 p.m.]. Now that's no longer an issue, and this is a good opportunity to test how our fans will respond to the evening hours."