What a difference a week can make. A fascinating – yet also horrifying and depressing – drama within the Maryland Jockey Club is unfolding before our eyes, chronicled in all the major area dailies, as one executive after another throws colleagues under the proverbial bus.
On Tuesday, November 2, Voters Green Light Slots at Arundel Mills
But you knew that.
On Wednesday, November 3, Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas Declares Laurel Will Shut Down Live Racing
In response to the Arundel Mills victory, the Maryland Daily Record reported that MJC President Tom Chuckas said that the Jockey Club would immediately begin dialing back their Maryland racing operations, including their plans to host only 40 days of live racing a year at Pimlico, closing the Bowie Training Center, turning Laurel Park into an off-track betting site and developing the land.
On Monday, November 8, Stronach Hangs Both Chuckas and Hoffberger Out To Dry
Over the weekend, Frank Stronach, owner of MI Development (which owns 51% of the Maryland Jockey Club) hung Chuckas out to dry, when he told The Baltimore Sun’s Jay Hancock that they will “keep the tracks open and more or less run reasonably the same days that we ran the last two years.”
Richard Hoffberger, president of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, was quick to take credit for this supposed change of Stronach’s mind, claiming that he happened to run into Stronach in the dining room of Fasig Tipton in Kentucky: “We sat down to discuss racing in Maryland…it didn’t take very long for the boss to say, ‘Richard, if you’ll work with me, I’ll keep the racetrack open.’ I said, ‘Frank, you just saved thousands of jobs.’”
But Stronach is not letting Hoffberger crow, claiming that he never intended to shut down racing and that Chuckas just had it wrong: “I was really annoyed when I read that [on the Daily Racing Form website]…that would not be my style…that’s not the case.” Therefore, according to Stronach, Hoffberger did not need to persuade Stronach to change his mind, as Stronach was never of a mind to close Laurel in the first place. So there.
But forgive us if we don’t really believe Stronach is interested in the long-term health of Laurel Park. If Stronach were really interested, he would have anteed up the $28 million dollar application fee for the slots parlor in the first place, and then slots at Arundel Mills never would have been on the table.
For those who believe that Stronach’s ultimate plan is still to develop Laurel (which would move business to tracks that Stronach owns in other states), and that all of this is mere posturing, perhaps his closing quote in the Sun is prophetic: “[On-site slots] are not the solution in the long run… racing will need its own fix.”
On Tuesday, November 9, Schippers-Sronach Smack-Down!
So then, in the Baltimore Business Journal on November 9, Penn National spokesman Eric Schippers says that Stronach never consulted with their company (which owns 49% of the Maryland Jockey Club) and said that he believes they must scale back on racing at Laurel Park.
And to The Baltimore Sun’s Hanah Cho, Schippers said that Penn National was “taken off guard” by Stronach’s comments and that Penn National is a “public company with responsibilities to our shareholders…continuing to endure the level of losses, post election, without making any necessary cuts is difficult to justify.”
Is this just a case of good cop v. bad cop? Whatever, gamesmanship is leaving the Maryland horse industry with a severe case of whiplash. How precarious it is for the future and fate of the Maryland racing industry to rest in these hands.
The bottom line in all of this – because racing IS so heavily regulated in Maryland, -is that the ownership of the tracks can not make any major decisions involving racing operations without the approval of the Maryland Racing Commission, which meets again on November 29.