A 10-year deal signed Friday promises to stabilize Maryland's storied horse racing industry by encouraging capital improvements at Pimlico and Laurel Park and guaranteeing at least 100 live racing days each year, according to the state's track operators, horsemen and breeders.
Under the agreement, Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness, the second jewel in the Triple Crown, and Laurel Park will remain open for year-round racing, training and stabling with at least 1,900 stalls through 2023. The coming racing season will feature 146 days, and added race days are possible. Terms of the revenue-sharing deal were not disclosed.
The Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Pimlico and Laurel, will unveil upgrades to the race courses in February. The deal also would close a training track in Bowie in the next 10 years.
"Today is a great day for Maryland's racing industry," said Gov. Martin O'Malley, who announced the deal Friday. "I applaud the incredible work of all the parties in reaching a deal that retains racing industry jobs and preserves the future of racing in Maryland for years to come."
The Maryland Racing Commission is expected to approve the 2013 race dates at its meeting Tuesday.
"For our loyal horsemen and the thousands of workers throughout the state who have supported Maryland racing during the difficult past decade, we will now have long-term stability, year-round racing and stabling, an attractive purse structure, promise for the breeding industry and a strong foundation to restore Maryland racing to its pre-eminence in North American racing," Alan Foreman, counsel for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said in a statement.
"For those who left Maryland for greener pastures," he added, "I think you will find that Maryland will soon become the centerpiece of racing in the Mid-Atlantic."
The deal follows years of uncertainty as Maryland's horse racing industry crept along on year-to-year deals negotiated at the last minute. The Jockey Club lost $5.3 million in 2011 and $20 million in 2010. Meanwhile, Annapolis lawmakers wrestled over how to structure legalized gambling in the state, even as nearby states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia found ways to strengthen the industry.
Eventually, the General Assembly agreed to allocate 7 percent of slot machine revenue toward horse racing purses and a smaller slice for track improvements. Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas said the slots revenue boosts money for owners, trainers and jockeys, leading to better horses and racing, and more patrons.
Purse money is expected to increase when casinos open in Baltimore and in Prince George's County.
Tim Capps, a former Jockey Club executive and now director of the Equine Industry Program at the University of Louisville, said the new agreement is reason for guarded optimism. The industry's success in Maryland will depend on whether stakeholders can remain "friendly and harmonious" and live up to their promises, he said.
"I am glad to see them come to an agreement, and I hope that it's lasting," Capps said. "Right now, it's a good thing, because it creates the notion of stability. The question for the long term is, how is the health of the racetracks themselves, can they get back into a much more reasonable financial situation where they can be sustainable for the long term?"
A decade-long agreement buys the industry time, Capps said. "There is a window now for the industry to work with."
Chuckas said the agreement, in the works since January, provides the stability to justify investments in capital projects at Pimlico and Laurel Park. He declined to discuss proposed projects until a plan is submitted to the Maryland Racing Commission in February.
After the Bowie facility closes, horses would be relocated to Laurel and Pimlico, which hasn't hosted horses year-round since 2001, said Mike Gathagan, a Jockey Club vice president.
Stakeholders praised the agreement.
Chuckas said it was the first time the tracks, the horsemen and the breeders had reached a "true partnership."
Cricket Goodall, executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, said the agreement was critical for the future of racing in the state, especially for breeders.
"There was a lot of concern when we just had year-to-year deals," Goodall said. "We've been working toward revitalizing the industry since slot money start moving. We want to encourage people to come back and do their business here."
Frank Stronach, chairman of the Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico, Laurel Park and the Jockey Club, said the deal shows a joint commitment.
"It is our vision to encourage people to invest in Maryland racing," he said in a statement.