The state of Maryland may forever see 2010 as the year when its beloved horse racing legacy almost went dark. Xmas could not have come too soon for the Thoroughbred horse racing trainers, horse breeders and track workers at Bowie, Laurel and Pimlico horse race tracks. As recently as December 21st, there was much doubt about The future of the Preakness at Pimlico. Maryland’s racing commission had just voted to reject a proposal by the owners of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park to conduct live racing in 2011, meaning there wouldn’t be horse racing at either track until a new agreement had been reached. That would have left the future of the Triple Crown’s second leg in absolute limbo, given that the Preakness has been run at Pimlico Race Course since its inception in 1873. With $80 million dollars having been spent on the race in 2010, the potential consequences were truly serious.
Well, on Dec. 23rd, just two days before Xmas, it was announced that Maryland Racing would be granted a full, 146 day racing schedule in 2011. What makes this so significant is that Maryland’s horse racing industry had previously been awarded only 30 days of racing for 2011, and this would have completely decimated the industry, in that state, which is home to the Preakness, the second leg of racing’s most famous series, the Triple Crown.
November saw Penn National Gaming and the Maryland Jockey Club (MID) deliver a plan that promised to crush live racing and erase it from Maryland’s landscape. The 30 day racing schedule, proposed for 2011, would have basically wiped out the horse racing community. Fortunately, horse racing people have some pretty strong backbones, so, they rallied and did what it takes to get things turned around. Working in concert with some rather forceful allies, namely the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, The Maryland Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association, hundreds of extremely vocal members of the Maryland community and no less than Governor, Martin O’Malley, they were able to push through a last minute deal granting Maryland horse racing’s full return to glory in 2011.
Governor O’ Malley was prepared to go to the mattresses, if Penn and MID refused to relent, stating that he was prepared to seize the tracks, should push come to shove. “We are prepared to aggressively protect the State’s interests, as we did two years ago when presented with the threat of losing Maryland’s treasured Preakness Stakes. We will continue to explore the legal options available to us.”
The last minute deal guarantees Maryland’s horse racing industry, no less than 146 days of live racing, a number not far off from the 2010 horse racing schedule. Bowie Training Center will keep its doors open with some help from the MTHA, which will contribute $1.7 million to help shore up the center’s operating expenses. In addition, $3.5 to $4 million in slots earnings will be reassigned to a racetrack renewal fund, giving Maryland horse racing the subsidy it had been campaigning for.
With the horse racing industry currently on the upswing, Maryland’s citizenry will be working harder than ever to protect the horse racing industry it loves so dearly. Steuart Pittman, Maryland Horse Council’s President, has been suggesting some great ideas to help further enhance Maryland Racing’s profile. “Imagine the slogan, “Maryland Racing, Where Horses Come First.” Come to the track and learn about horses,” He said. “Watch demonstrations of horsemanship in the indoor arena between races. See the videos of horses in the next race as they romp and play with their exercise riders and grooms in the morning. Hear what the backstretch workers have to say about their personalities and their care before you place your bets. And then, of course, we have great restaurants, great music, a movie theater that shows horse movies all the time, mechanical horses to ride with tips from real jockeys.”
With live racing’s last minute rescue, it’s time for everyone to rally and do their part. Check your local track’s schedule, grab your family and head out for a fun day at the races. This industry, properly nurtured, as it should be, can hope to not only return to its former happy days, but with sufficient effort, can continue as a haloed fixture and permanent part of Maryland’s tradition, community and economy.