Today, Tuesday, December 18, 2012, is a banner today for Maryland racing, and a great way to start the Christmas holidays!

Today the Maryland Racing Commission approved the 146 days requested for Thoroughbred racing, solidifying a groundbreaking 10-year deal that has the potential to finally reinvigorate Maryland Thoroughbred racing.  After approving the racing days, MRC approved a surprise agreement that will allow cross-breed simulcasting of racing.

The standardbred track, Rosecroft Raceway (now owned by Penn National), will once again be able to show Thoroughbred racing at Laurel and Pimlico (and elsewhere), while Laurel and Pimlico will be able to simulcast harness racing. (In 2009, the Standardbred interest refused to pay for the Thoroughbred simulcasting rights, resulting, until today, in a stalemate.)  The pertinent parties were just about to begin state-mandated arbitration last week when they managed to reach a consensus. (Now, if only Congress and the White House could do that.)

Meanwhile, on Friday, December 14, 2012, the Maryland Jockey Club (MJC), the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (MTHA) and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association (MHBA) announced that they have come to a 10-year agreement for sustained racing at Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park.

The 2013 racing season will feature 146 days of live racing at the major Maryland tracks, the same number as in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The Maryland Jockey Club will guarantee a minimum of 100 days a year for the balance of the agreement. There are provisions in the contract for the horsemen to race additional days through a revenue-sharing program.

The deal also calls for Pimlico and Laurel Park to remain open for year-round racing, training and stabling for the balance of the contract. MJC indicated that Pimlico and Laurel would maintain a minimum of 1,900 stalls.

Once the deal was struck, both the owner of the Maryland Jockey Club, Frank Stronach, and the Governor of Maryland quickly issued press statements.

Stronach issued the following statement: “I am confident and pleased via this agreement. 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 preeminence in North American racing.”

The Governor issued this statement: “Today [Nov. 14] is a great day for Maryland’s racing industry. When my office helped broker a deal in 2010 that would temporarily sustain the industry, I was confident that all the parties would continue to work hard to reach an agreement that would preserve Maryland’s racing heritage and industry. 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.”

Meanwhile, here is what those with their boots on the ground (or boots in the stirrups, as the case may be) had to say:

Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas (from a MJC press release): “We created a plan that benefits everyone and develops a sustainable model for the future. I would like to thank Governor Martin O’Malley for his continued support of the industry. We appreciate his involvement two years ago which set up the framework for this deal. We appreciate Maryland Racing Commissioners John McDaniel and Bruce Quade for their commitment as well as the leadership from the MTHA and MBHA for working with us to make this happen. [The deal] allows the Maryland Jockey Club to invest in capital improvements at both facilities and we plan on submitting a plan to the Maryland Racing Commission and Maryland Department of Budget and Management in February.”

Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association general counsel Alan Foreman (in a press release from the Governor’s office): “This is an historic moment for the Maryland racing community and the dawn of a new era. The years of uncertainty and strife are over. The racing industry owes a debt of gratitude to Tom Chuckas, Mike Rogers, Richard Hoffberger, Dale Capuano, Wayne Wright, Tom Bowman, Bruce Quade and John McDaniel for their dedication and hard work over the past 11 months to bring this to fruition. Most importantly, I want to thank Frank Stronach for his commitment to the future of Maryland racing and his willingness to work with us to find constructive solutions to our complicated issues. Since he assumed ownership of the Maryland tracks, Frank has sought a business model that would allow him to profit here while preserving and enhancing Maryland’s historic racing industry. In partnership with him, we can now achieve that goal. 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 preeminence in North American racing. For those who left Maryland for greener pastures, I think you will find that Maryland will soon become the centerpiece of racing in the Mid-Atlantic.”

Maryland Horse Breeders Association president Tom Bowman (in a press release from the Governor’s office): “It was an honor to be involved in this historic accomplishment. A special acknowledgement needs to be given to the Maryland Racing Commission for providing both the impetus and guidance to see this process completed. Hats off to everyone involved.”

Maryland Horse Breeders Association executive director Cricket Goodall (to The Baltimore Sun): “There was a lot of concern when we just had year-to-year deals. 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.”

And last but certainly not least, Tim Capps, former Executive Director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, former vice president of the Maryland Jockey Club and currently the director of the Equine Industry Program at the University of Louisville and popular pundit on the Maryland industry (to The Baltimore Sun): “The industry’s success in Maryland will depend on whether stakeholders can remain ‘friendly and harmonious’ and live up to their promises. I am glad to see them come to an agreement, and I hope that it’s lasting. 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? [With a ten-year agreement] there is a window now for the industry to work with.”

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