The Business Of Racing



The owners of Laurel Park and Pimlico Racecourse in Maryland will submit a proposal to the state racing commission next week for a 77-day racing schedule in 2011, despite opposition to the plan from the state's horsemen, an official for the partnership said Monday.

Eric Schippers, spokesman for Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns 49 percent of the two tracks, said the schedule was devised in consultation with MI Developments, its partner. The partners devised the schedule after the state racing commission in November rejected an earlier proposal to run 47 dates at the two tracks.

Schippers said the schedule would allow for racing through the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on the third Saturday in May. Racing would be conducted at Laurel Park during the winter and early spring, Schippers said.

Horsemen, however, have rejected the 77-date proposal in two separate meetings with Penn National and MI Developments, according to Alan Foreman, the legal counsel to the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. The horsemen continue to maintain that the state can support year-round racing, Foreman said, and are working with officials in state government to develop an alternate plan.

'I can tell you that there is zero support for this plan from the horsemen,' Foreman said. 'We agreed with Penn National and MI Developments not to negotiate in public, and they've gone public with it. We will continue our discussions with the governor's office.'

Penn National and MI Developments also plan to lobby the state legislature early next year for an expansion of the state's casino-gambling law, which allows slot machines at five locations under a constitutional amendment. MI Developments had applied for a slot-machine license at Laurel Park early this year, but the application was thrown out when the company did not include a $27.5 million fee required under the state's law.

'We think that as you look at the neighboring racing jurisdictions, all of which have gaming at the tracks, it's apparent that the long-term viability of racing requires slot machines,' Schippers said.

The state's racing commission is scheduled to meet Dec. 21 to consider the proposal. The commission rejected the partnership's 47-date schedule in late November after horsemen and commissioners roundly criticized the proposal. This year, the two tracks are conducting 146 race dates.

Schippers said that officials for the partnership will continue to meet with the racing industry early next year on a 'long-range plan that is going to ensure the viability of racing.'

Penn National bought into the tracks this year in the hopes that it could steer the lone casino license allowed in Anne Arundel County to Laurel, but voters in November rejected a company-sponsored referendum that would have overturned the zoning approvals for the current licenseholder.

Under the constitutional amendment, the state's racing industries will receive as much as $100 million in subsidies for purses, breeders awards, and capital expenditures, regardless of where the casinos are located. Horsemen have cited the subsidies in saying that the state can support a year-round racing schedule, but Penn National and MI Developments have said that the tracks will continue to lose millions of dollars a year, even with the subsidies.

by Matt Hegarty


Two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Carl Nafzger will have a string of 14 horses here at Tampa Bay Downs this winter.

Nafzger won the 1990 Kentucky Derby with Unbridled and the 2007 Derby with Street Sense, a horse he shipped here to win the Tampa Bay Derby in a prep that set him up perfectly for his success in Kentucky.

It was his experience with Street Sense and other horses he has shipped to Tampa over the years from the East Coast of Florida that prompted Nafzger to apply for stalls here this season.

'I have been very pleased in the past with the racing surfaces both on the main track and the turf course, very happy with the way most of my horses come out of races here, so we decided to ask for stalls this season,' Nafzger said. 'We will have horses at Palm Meadows, but we can ship horses to Tampa and back, try them on the turf if we want, and if they show a particular fondness for the main track or the turf there then we can leave them there and race them there. It gives us a lot of flexibility with our organization.'

Nafzger said he has a good mix of runners from claiming types up to stakes runners but there aren't any standouts at this point.

'That's what this time of year is for,' he said. 'We can assess our stock, evaluate our young runners, and plot a plan of action for the spring.'

Nafzger will share his barn with Ian Wilkes, a former assistant who has had his own stable for several years now.

Another newcomer with an illustrious past is Dave Vance, a no-nonsense, blue-collar horseman, who has endured the highs and lows of the business. Vance has gone from leading the nation in races won in a single season, training for an Eclipse Award-winning owner, to having his stable dwindle down to just a few runners. But he has always persevered and has won more than 3,000 races in his career.

by Doug McCoy



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