Thoroughbred horses will continue racing in Maryland — for now — as the industry continues to grapple with charting a sustainable, long-term path forward.
The corporate owners of Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course and groups representing thoroughbred owners, trainers and breeders reached a short-term agreement on operations and profit-sharing that will enable the sport to keep going for the next six months. The parties were just weeks away from being unable to run races in Maryland, had they not reached a deal.
Mike Rogers of 1/ST Racing, the company that owns the tracks, announced the agreement at a meeting of the Maryland Racing Commission on Tuesday, but declined to provide details.
A lawyer for the tracks, Alan Rifkin, told commission members that the agreement has “almost identical terms” to an agreement that’s been in place for more than 10 years.
Under that agreement, the owners, trainers and breeders shared a portion of their proceeds from simulcast profits with Stronach Group, the parent company of 1/ST, to help subsidize racing operations at Laurel and Pimlico.
Without a plan in place, no racing dates had been scheduled past June 30 when the prior agreement expired. Had the parties not gotten a new deal approved by Tuesday, it was unclear whether racing would continue in the near future.
But the racing commission, which held a hybrid in-person and online meeting at Laurel Park, gave the OK on Tuesday for 33 live racing days at Laurel between now and the end of August.
Alan Foreman of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, representing owners and trainers, said the parties were close to an agreement before May’s Preakness Stakes.
“It’s a shame it took this long to get it done, but it’s good the parties are in agreement,” Foreman said in an interview.
A short-term agreement makes the most sense, Foreman said, given how much in flux the racing industry is right now.
“There’s no point to a long-term agreement because no one knows what the industry will look like,” he said.
With the viability of racing ensured for the next few months, the long-term future of the industry continues to be the source of much discussion and worry.
“We continue to work on the long-term plan,” Rogers, who attended the meeting via video, told the state racing commissioners.
Both tracks are old and in disrepair, in need of extensive and expensive renovations.
Just before the coronavirus pandemic came to Maryland in 2020, the various segments of the racing industry came up with a renovation plan that was approved by state lawmakers. Essentially, the state would borrow hundreds of millions of dollars for renovations by issuing bonds. The bonds would be paid back at a rate of $17 million per year by redirecting a couple different streams of existing industry subsidies.
Most of the money would have been spent at Laurel, which was envisioned as the home of year-round racing. Pimlico would have been donated to the city or a nonprofit entity and turned into a multiuse facility that would continue to host just the Preakness racing meet each spring.
But the plan never came to fruition due to a combination of inflation, interest rates, construction costs and an unanticipated tax implication that would force 1/ST Racing and Stronach Group to pay a big tax bill for accepting public money for a private sports facility.
A new Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority will be appointed this summer with the charge of studying the options for the tracks and making recommendations by the end of the year. It’s likely that any changes to the financing plan would need approval from state lawmakers during the next General Assembly session that begins in January.