Maryland Racing Commission meeting could be lively affair

The situation with Laurel Park’s dirt course tumbled towards some sort of resolution Monday, but the contours remained murky.

Trainer Tim Keefe, president of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, told The Racing Biz Sunday that he and executives from 1/ST Racing, the parent company of Laurel’s owner, the Maryland Jockey Club, were close to an agreement under which former MJC track super John Passero would assess the surface and recommend steps to make the track safer and more consistent.

Unexpected bumps in the road Monday morning had left the agreement still unsigned, though Keefe told he was “more hopeful” than he had been earlier that accord was nearing.

The Maryland Racing Commission has scheduled an emergency meeting for Tuesday at 11:00 a.m. at Laurel to address the surface issues.

Commission chair Michael Algeo said Saturday that the Commission would not allow racing to resume until it was satisfied in the safety of the dirt surface. Racing was canceled Friday through Sunday, and Thursday’s card was also spiked because of a lack of entries.

“Racing ain’t happening until the Racing Commission says it’s happening,” Algeo said.

Tuesday’s meeting may be a lively one. Several horsemen said they were planning to attend and were urging others to join them. Many have spoken passionately about the issues on social media, and others have vented their frustrations privately.

Assuming the MTHA and MJC do reach an agreement, the Commission would have a couple of options. It could bless that agreement for one, and allow the sides to continue to try to work together. Or it could take a more assertive role; state law allows the Commission to retain its own experts at the racetrack operator’s expense.

Either way, the involvement of Passero would go a long way towards allaying horsemen’s concerns. Veteran Maryland trainers strongly support the Passero’s involvement, and they almost universally hold his work in high regard.

Either way, it is imperative for public confidence in the sport that the Commission be the entity to decide when it is safe to resume racing.

Meanwhile, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA), the federally-created body designed to promote safety for horses and riders, issued its first substantive public statement on the Maryland issues. That statement, on April 24, came four days after three horses were vanned off during racing, prompting the Maryland Racing Commission to shut down racing for the rest of the weekend.

HISA’s Director of Equine Safety and Welfare Dr. Jennifer Durenberger and Director of Racetrack Safety Ann McGovern have been tasked with analyzing the situation.

“This review is ongoing, and HISA has not reached any conclusions regarding the potential causes of the recent fatalities,” the statement said. “Once this thorough review has been completed, HISA will issue its findings and set forth any potential next steps. As always, HISA’s primary goal is to optimize the safety of horses and riders, and that objective will be prioritized above all else in this review and in any subsequent actions.”