Laurel/Pimlico to hold 146-day live racing schedule in 2011

December 22, 2010 | Drew Forrester

Let the record reflect – since that how he prefers it – that the Governor of the great state of Maryland “saved” horse racing in Maryland today.

With some creative movement of some dollars from the state’s coffers – and the altering of funds originally designated for track improvements – Martin O’Malley today “brokered” a deal that finalizes a 146-day live horse racing schedule between Laurel and Pimlico, beginning on Saturday, January 1, 2011.

What really took place today, though, is this: In a fierce battle between M.I.D. (owners of the two tracks and the Bowie training facility), the Maryland Jockey Club (operators of the tracks) and the State of Maryland, the Governor finally blinked.

Did the Governor blink in time to salvage a splintered relationship between the Jockey Club and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association?

Probably not.

And maybe that’s the way he wanted it.

The state has now “done their part” – as the Governor’s office will tell you, I’m sure – to keep horse racing alive by funneling monies originally derived from slots revenue that was intended for track upgrades and handing it over to MJC for assistance in making the bottom line more acceptable at Laurel Park.

But will that money REALLY save Laurel Park?

Will it REALLY save Laurel Park with slots right down the street at the Arundel Mills Mall?

And if it doesn’t improve Laurel Park’s bottom line, who is left to blame?

That would be the Maryland Jockey Club, of course. You remember them…they just got a “free” $4 million envelope under the holiday tree. And if that $4 million can’t improve their position, well, then, maybe the folks at MJC aren’t equipped to run the tracks…if you get my drift.

Don’t be confused by what happened today, even though it’s terribly perplexing if you haven’t been following this drama for the last year.

Here’s what happened: The state had months and months and months to help “save” racing in Maryland. They waited until today, until the clock was at 11:59, and then they stepped in and “did what was right for the fine people of Maryland”. In the meantime, the months of anguish and strife have led to fractured business and political relationships that will, in all likelihood, be very difficult to repair.

But that’s probably what the state wanted in the first place.

This time next year, my guess is the Maryland Jockey Club won’t be operating the tracks in Maryland or, at the least, will be doing so under a new management structure that somehow falls under the arm of the state and/or the state racing commission. My guess is that sometime soon, you’ll hear that Penn National Gaming will sell their license at the Perryville VLT location and magically pony up (no pun intended) the license fee for the downtown Baltimore location. And my guess is that somehow, someway, that downtown license will be approved for transfer to an area rather close to the Pimlico race track rather than its current zoning location near the Inner Harbor.

My guess is that this whole fiasco is far from over.

And my guess is that our Governor is going to do his best to come out smelling like a rose.