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Tom Chuckas leaves Maryland racing much better than he found it

Tom Chuckas has resigned as president and chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, which raises questions about the future of horse racing in the state that it's obviously too early to answer.

What isn't in question is the positive impact that Chuckas had on the sport and, in particular, the Preakness Stakes, which he risked his career to transform into the more civilized event that it has become over the past six years.

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Chuckas didn't make a lot of friends when he and the Jockey Club decided to do away with the traditional infield bacchanal in 2009 and prohibit revelers from bringing their own alcohol to Pimlico. Instead, the track introduced a one-price bottomless beer mug and booked big-name rock acts to entertain the infield crowd.

Though attendance dropped sharply the first year of the new format, the Preakness Stakes quickly recovered its infield audience and it has become impossible to argue that the well-being of the fans and the image of the event is not better for that bold decision.

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During his six-year tenure, he seldom shied away from controversy or dodged an issue that pertained to the future of racing, ruffling some horsefeathers again this year when he advocated a major change in the scheduling of the Triple Crown races to encourage more high-quality three-year-olds to participate in all three.

The idea hasn't taken root because of an apparent lack of interest from the New York Racing Association, but it is certain to be a topic of discussion again when the next California Chrome gets his (or her) shot at the elusive Triple Crown dashed by a bunch ofwell-rested horses at the Belmont Stakes.

Chuckas is well-liked in all corners of the racing community, which is a rare thing in a sport so full of competing interests. He also will be missed by the local media, which never had to wait long for a comment or explanation when racing news broke in the region.

Apparently, the Stronach Group that owns the Maryland Jockey Club felt that it needed different leadership and brought in new general manager Sal Sinatra from Philadelphia to manage Laurel and Pimlico.

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It remains to be seen whether that decision will take racing to a new level in Maryland, but one thing should be obvious. When Tom Chuckas officially steps down at the end of the month, he will cross the finish line a winner.

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