Maryland's tracks, horsemen working on final details of long-term deal

The Maryland Racing Commission set a Nov. 30 deadline for the completion of what could be an unprecedented 10-year deal to outline the future of horse racing in the state.

It will come and go without signatures on the contract.

"I wouldn't read anything negative into that," said Alan Foreman, lawyer for the state's horsemen.

There's no impasse, he said, on any significant part of the agreement.

Mike Hopkins, executive director of the racing commission, said he has spoken to members of the board, including chairman Bruce Quade, and they are satisfied with the progress made so far. They expect a deal to be finalized before their final meeting of the year on Dec. 18.

Tom Chuckas of the Maryland Jockey Club, owner of Laurel and Pimlico, struck the most measured tone saying "when it is appropriate, we will make an announcement."

Sources familiar with the negotiation said the snag has come on intricate details related to the long-term nature of the deal. Both sides want to be protected if the economics of the business change, and creating stipulations based on financial projections takes time and tinkering.

All involved still believe that a deal will be reached that gives the industry much-needed stability. Thanks to slots money, races in Maryland are drawing better horses from throughout the region.

But Maryland's tracks have been hemorrhaging money, leaving future racing dates in doubt and preventing substantial investment in some areas of the business.

Breeders have shown increased faith in the state, though, with about 40 more mares being listed in 2012. The foal population from this year is expected be at an all time low -- around 400, when more than 1,200 were born here in 2000 -- but should rebound next year, said Maryland Horse Breeders Association executive president Cricket Goodall.

The new deal will guarantee at least 100 racing days each year and would close the Bowie training center but guarantee more stalls -- including some new ones -- at Laurel and/or Pimlico.


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