by Frank Vespe
The Maryland Racing Commission got up on the wrong side of the bed yesterday.
In a testy meeting, Commissioners sparred with each other over just about everything. “This all sounds like a lot of mumbo-jumbo to me,” Commissioner John Franzone said at one point, causing chairman Bruce Quade, whose explanation had thusly been described, to bristle.
Later veterinarians found themselves in the middle. “Would you guys submit to polygraph tests?” one Commissioner asked the surprised vets, who were seeking the contract to administer the about-to-start third party Lasix administration program.
Dr. Sean Plaisance subsequently suggested the Commission award his group the contract. “I think that the [program] could be accomplished by a local Maryland entity rather than an out-of-state corporation,” he said.
Commissioner David Hayden disagreed, saying that he considered it a negative that “you already have a relationship with the trainers in the state.” That didn’t sit very well with Plaisance.
And so it went.[boxify cols_use =”4″ cols =”4″ position =”none” order =”none” box_spacing =”5″ padding =”3″ border_width =”1″ border_color =”blue” border_style =”solid” height =”60″ ]
Yet by the end, the Commission had agreed to have the state procurement office run a competitive bidding process for the Commission’s workers’ comp policy for jockeys, awarded the Lasix contract (to Dr. Jay Baldwin’s group), and taken other steps forward.
For all the sparring, what was most interesting wasn’t who was fighting, it was who wasn’t fighting: namely, the horsemen and the racetracks. Those stakeholders agreed to modify the winter racing schedule (here), agreed that the Preakness purse should rise by 50 percent (here), pretty much agreed on everything.
That, Quade pointed out in end-of-year remarks, stood in stark contrast to recent Decembers, when with the clock ticking, the sides were locked in a death struggle over how many racing days the coming year would include.
Indeed, it was just three years ago, in 2010, when Maryland racing actually seemed to have reached death’s doorstep. An estimated 400 people packed the Carriage Room at Laurel that year to watch an extraordinarily contentious Commission meeting. Frank Stronach flew in to make the case for a “new model” of racing, which no one was much interested in; Commissioners criticized the “arrogant ways” of Penn National Gaming execs, who then owned part of the Maryland Jockey Club. Horsemen in attendance hooted and hollered at appropriate (and inappropriate) moments. And when the meeting had ended, the sides were no closer to agreement than they had been at the start.
Yesterday — with a 10-year racing agreement in place, new medication rules slated to take effect on January 1, and a breeding program that’s opened to positive reviews — the disputes were real. But the stakes were, compared to prior years, much lower.
“We need to link arms when we go to Annapolis this session,” Quade suggested at meeting’s end, “and speak with one voice that Maryland racing is coming back… We’re really on our way.”
Or, as Horsemen’s Assistance Fund executive director Bobby Lillis said during public comments, “As Tiny Tim said, ‘God bless us, every one.”