Maryland Racing Commission: No-show appellants to be fined

The cost of not doing business in Maryland is about to go up.

Using powers it already possessed but infrequently has used, the Maryland Racing Commission at its February 6 meeting voted to begin fining no-show appellants $500 plus the cost of the court reporter employed at hearings, typically around $175.

The move is designed to discourage those who appeal stewards’ decisions to the Commission but then fail to appear for scheduled hearings without notifying the Commission in advance. Now, following a motion introduced by commissioner Bobby Lillis, absent 24 hours’ notice or an excuse the Commission deems legitimate, those who appeal but no-show their hearings will be fined.

Most stewards’ rulings are not appealed, and typically when they are, the appellants are eager to make their case. But on infrequent occasion, people appeal but then decide not to follow through.

One recent case that had frustrated some commissioners occurred after Maryland Million Classic runner Market Maven crossed the wire first but was disqualified for bumping Ain’t Da Beer Cold. Trainer Jamie Ness and owner Gregory Gordon appealed the decision shortly after the race but did not appear for their December hearing.

Maryland’s regulations permit the Commission to “impose additional sanctions” against an appellant who “fails to… pursue an appeal, or appear at the hearing on the appeal after proper notice and without good cause.”

But those discretionary powers have rarely been used in recent years. Eric London, the counsel to the Commission, characterized the decision to begin imposing fines as “putting everyone on notice” that the Commission was going to begin to use that discretion.

In other Commission business, Maryland Jockey Club acting president Mike Rogers expressed concerns that an ongoing outbreak of equine herpesvirus in New York could put a dent in Laurel’s signature winter races, the Grade 3 General George and Grade 3 Barbara Fritchie. The seven-furlong tests are scheduled for February 17.

That issue came into starker focus later Tuesday when the New York Racing Association announced that the quarantine on barn 15 at Belmont Park would extend until at least February 26 – well after the races are to be run. A number of the horses nominated to the two races are based at Belmont, and New York horses have often played big roles in them.

The Commission also learned that legislation had been introduced that would transfer regulation of satellite simulcast betting facilities – OTBs – from the Commission to the state Lottery and Gaming Control Agency. The bill, SB 627, would mark another reduction in Commission responsibility, which in recent years has seen its regulation of medication control and other safety issues usurped by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, its oversight of the Racetrack Facilities Renewal Account removed, and the creation of the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority (MTROA) to play the lead role in determining the future of racing.

The Commission also announced that it may not hold a March meeting. Given the existence of legislation directly affecting the Commission, the likely introduction of legislation pertaining to the MTROA recommendations, and the rapidly approaching Preakness, that decision came as something of a surprise to observers.