Md. Racing Commission approves tentative 2024 racing dates
The Maryland Racing Commission approved placeholder live racing dates for 2024 at its October 31 meeting, with the Preakness tentatively scheduled for its traditional third-Saturday-in-May date, two weeks after the Kentucky Derby. But the dates requests are contingent on the track operator Maryland Jockey Club and the state’s horsemen reaching accord on a contract extension for next year, which has not yet occurred.
Adding uncertainty to the mix, one of the Maryland Jockey Club’s requested – and approved – racing weekends overlaps with a weekend approved for the Maryland State Fair for the Timonium meet.
This past August, Aidan Butler, chief executive officer of 1/ST Racing, which owns the Maryland Jockey Club, proposed altering the date of the Preakness to provide more time between the first two jewels of the Triple Crown. That followed a Preakness in which only one Kentucky Derby starter – winner Mage – came to Baltimore, while Forte, the Derby morning line favorite ruled out by state veterinarians the morning of the Run for the Roses, was also ineligible to compete, since a state vet’s decision to scratch a horse requires the horse to sit out for two weeks.
“Discussion around spacing out the schedule of The Triple Crown is nothing new, and we believe the time has come to advance those discussions to the next step,” Butler said in his August statement.
But the proposal approved today envisions the Preakness in its traditional spot on the third Saturday in May. That’s May 18, with the Black-Eyed Susan the day before, falling on the second of three weekends of the Pimlico Preakness meet. That meet is scheduled for 11 days of live racing.
The Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, also received approval for winter and spring meetings at Laurel, along with the spring meeting at Pimlico. It additionally was approved to run a summer meet at Laurel and an additional fall meet at that track, though the latter meets are not fleshed out.
The approved days in the first half of the year include 38 days of live racing at Laurel in the first three months of 2024. Racing would be conducted on a Friday-through-Sunday basis during January, February, and March, with the exception of Easter Sunday, March 31, which would be dark.
The Laurel spring meet would include 18 days of live racing, with racing at that facility in April and through the first weekend in May. Live racing would occur three days a week in the first half of April, with a fourth day added starting April 18. Racing would be conducted Friday through Sunday during the first two weekends and then Thursday through Sunday for the final three weekends of the stand.
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However, the agreement between the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the track operator, which is necessary to permit racing to occur, expires December 31, 2023. Sources have told The Racing Biz that renewal negotiations have not yet begun.
The so-called “ten-year deal” which governed racing in Maryland for a decade expired at the end of 2022. The sides have negotiated a pair of six-month extensions that have permitted racing to continue through this year but will need to do so once again by year’s end if racing is to continue in 2024.
“We certainly need to get this done, I would hope, by the first of December, if we’re going to have an extension, and I believe we will, because you’ve got to get the condition books printed, you’ve got to start preparing for racing on January 1, you can’t do it at the last minute,” MTHA general counsel Alan Foreman said in an interview last week.
Under Maryland racing’s statute, dates requests are required by December 1 of the year prior. Since the Maryland Racing Commission has no further meetings scheduled this year, this meeting became the dates meeting.
Once the dates are awarded, changes often occur as the year goes on. Days may be lost to weather considerations, for example, and then added back later. Since the Maryland Jockey Club owns both Laurel and Pimlico, it sometimes transfers dates between the two tracks, as well.
Without further specifying a schedule, the MJC also requested days for a Laurel summer meeting running from the end of the Pimlico meet, which concludes May 27, until Timonium’s summer stand opens in late August, and for a Laurel fall meet from September 3 through December 31.
In recent years the company has run a September stand immediately following the Timonium meet at Pimlico. The dates request does not specify a Pimlico post-Timonium meet, but Commission officials said it did not preclude such a meet.
One thing that will need to be ironed out, however, is the overlap between Laurel and Timonium. While in most recent years, Timonium has run seven live days, it has requested its full statutory complement of 10 live racing days for 2024, which would take place August 22-25, August 29-Sepember 2, and September 5-8. Those are the three weekends during which the State Fair takes place, but the final weekend conflicts with dates requested by the MJC.
Since the Maryland Jockey Club normally staffs the State Fair race meet, running both Timonium and Laurel at the same time is likely to pose major logistical headaches, to say nothing of straining the horse population.
The Commission also approved 34 days of live harness racing at Rosecroft between January 1 and May 31, along with a fall meet but with days not yet specified. It also gave the nod to five days of racing at Fair Hill, though those days have not in recent years been conducted.