MDlogo scaledby Frank Vespe

The Maryland Racing Commission today approved the Maryland Jockey Club’s request to run 146 days in 2014, the same number it is slated to conduct this year  and the prior three.

But it was an entirely unrelated issue — that of jockey weight allowances — that played perhaps the leading role in the meeting.

Mindy Coleman of the Jockeys’ Guild requested that the Racing Commission revise its rule pertaining to when trainers must claim the apprentice weight allowance, requiring that they do so at the time of entry — the common standard embodied in the Guild’s model rules — rather than at scratch time, the current practice in Maryland.

Notes from the Maryland Racing Commission

That request received a decidedly cool reception from representatives of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.  “We feel very strongly that [allowing trainers to claim the allowance at scratch time] is a fairer way to everybody,” MTHA board member Katy Voss told the Commission.  “It’s very popular, and it’s working well.”

What’s at issue seems small but has, some riders and agents say, an outsized impact.  Horses typically are entered in races three days before the race takes place — Tuesday for Friday’s races.  Scratch time in this case would be 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, two days prior to the races.

Trainers typically name their jockeys and claim their relevant weight allowances (including the five to 10 pounds afforded to apprentices) at the time of entry.

In most states, according to the Jockeys’ Guild, if a trainer does not claim the apprentice weight allowance at the time of entry, he or she cannot use it, even if an apprentice ultimately rides the horse.

In Maryland, however, a trainer may enter a horse without naming a jockey, then, at scratch time, name a “bug” rider and claim the allowance.  Similarly, in a case where one rider is named to two mounts, the trainer who loses out on his or her preferred jockey can employ an apprentice at scratch time and claim the weight break.

That, say some, is unfair to journeyman riders.

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Maryland-based rider Richard Monterrey, a journeyman, has made 62 starts during the Laurel meet, sixteenth most among all riders at the central Maryland track.  He has six wins.  He told the Commission, “The rule affects me.  I’m not a top rider.  Last week I rode three horses — I can’t make a living like this.”

Monterrey was one of a group of local riders to attend the meeting.  Others included Sheldon Russell, Carlos Marquez, Geovany Garcia, and agent Frank Douglas.

The Jockeys’ Guild’s Coleman added that the Guild supports uniform regulations in this regard.  “We’re trying to achieve uniformity,” she said.

There appeared to be at least some support for the Guild’s position on the Racing Commission.  “Why should Maryland be a stand-alone on this issue?” Commissioner David Hayden wondered.

And Commissioner John Franzone likened the behavior of some trainers to “a den of thieves with this kind of stuff.”

But the MTHA’s general counsel, Alan Foreman, suggested that the right approach to any type of change would be for new proposals to be considered by the board of his organization.

With the Guild and the MTHA at odds, Commission chairman Bruce Quade suggested that the sides draft brief position papers and submit them to the Commission by December 1.

Maryland Jockey Club racing secretary Georganne Hale told the Commission that her staff estimated that this type of situation happens about once per day.

That would mean 146 times next year, according to the racing schedule approved by the Commission today.

The Laurel fall meet concludes at the end of this year, and the winter meet will pick up immediately, on January 1.  It will continue through the end of March, when action shifts to Pimlico.  Pimlico once again concludes on the first Saturday of June — Belmont Stakes day — and Maryland will again remain dark until the brief state fair meet at Timonium.  Laurel will resume action in early September for a 65-day fall meeting.

The winter stakes schedule is expected to be announced next month.


  • The Commission announced that the premium for workers’ compensation insurance for jockeys will be $1.2 million for 2014, down from $1.6 million last year as a result of fewer injuries suffered.  The Commission tentatively approved a $100 assessment to be paid by owners and trainers, in addition to their license fee, the same amount as in recent years.  The MTHA is expected to pay for the difference between $1.2 million and the amount brought in by the assessment.
  • The Commission learned that the North East Racing and Sports Club is slated to close by November 30.  The Club had been one of just two remaining standalone off-track betting facilities in the state.  The facility’s closure will cost the purse account an estimated $0.5 million, according to the MTHA’s David Richardson.
  • The Commission thanked Bruce Spizler, its counsel, who is retiring, for his efforts over the years.  Spizler, who has advised the Commission for 25 years — and been a racing fan, he said, for 61 — called it “an honor, privilege, and pleasure” to have served the Commission and reminded the industry, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  He received a standing ovation from the Commissioners and from others in attendance.