Maryland Racing Commission okays 162 live days in 2017
by Frank Vespe
The Maryland Racing Commission on Tuesday approved a request from the Maryland Jockey Club to run 162 days of live racing in 2017 – up from 154 this year.
That was the centerpiece of an upbeat meeting at Laurel Park, which also marked the first time that Belinda Stronach has attended a Commission meeting here since taking over as chairman and president of the Stronach Group, which owns the tracks.
Horse racing is “a great legacy sport that still needs to be modernized,” Stronach told the Commission in brief remarks.
“Our commitment is there for the future,” she added. “I believe in it. I can see where we have to go.”
The company’s commitment was on display in a variety of ways today. Handle on the MJC product, which was $296 million in 2014, is expected to reach $425 million by the end of this year, Stronach Group chief operating officer Tim Ritvo told the meeting; that’s a 44 percent increase.
The company also received sign-off from the Commission today to access more than $1.5 million in matching funds from the Racetrack Facilities Redevelopment Account (RFRA) for the 84-stall, three-level wooden barn the MJC is building facing route 198. RFRA provides funds on a 50-50 matching basis, and the full cost of the barn – which includes as many as 150 dorm rooms for backstretch workers – is expected to top $3 million.
“These significant investments ensure the long-term health and survival of the industry,” Ritvo told the Commission.
As for the dates, the company will run three days of racing per week for most of the year, Ritvo said, with four days per week during the spring Pimlico meeting and also during October and November at Laurel Park.
Ritvo indicated that the 162 days of live racing are intended to be a minimum number. When the National Harbor Casino comes online, analysts expect racing’s share of slots revenue to get a solid boost; if that occurs, the MJC may add race days.
“Once we know that the MGM is online and contributing and there’s money available, we definitely want to add days,” Ritvo said. “The question’s always, when you get the extra influx of money, do you add days, do you add purse money to the purses, do you add a stakes schedule? Right now the template is everybody wants a little extra racing: more opportunities.”
Maryland Jockey Club president Sal Sinatra said that the stakes schedule for the winter meeting had not yet been finalized, though he expected that it would look substantially similar to the one the company employed in 2016. That means that the highlights of the winter meeting – the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie and Grade 3 General George – will likely anchor the track’s Presidents Day weekend events.
The specific dates and length of the Pimlico meeting are “almost there,” Sinatra said in a text, but have not yet been finalized.
The MJC held 28 days of live racing at Pimlico in May and June 2016. Given the state of the Pimlico plant, the ongoing Maryland Stadium Authority Study about the future of the facility, and the money the company has spent on Laurel, it seems likely that it will hold either the same or fewer days of live racing at Old Hilltop in 2017.
The Commission also approved dates requests for Timonium – 10 days during the State Fair, though it will only run seven of those – and the harness tracks Ocean Downs (48 days of live racing in ’17) and Rosecroft (60 days).