MD Senate committee discusses future of Bowie Training Center

Posted: Feb. 3, 2017

Whether horses return to the vacant Bowie Training Center in Maryland apparently hinges on the results of a Maryland Stadium Authority report on the feasibility of rebuilding Pimlico Race Course, according to comments made Feb. 2 during a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

Sen. Douglas Peters, whose district includes the City of Bowie, filed a bill that would authorize the state to “acquire, by purchase or condemnation for public use with just compensation, private property relating to the Bowie Race Course Training Center if the owner does not meet certain requirements.” Bowie, which held its last race meet in the summer of 1985, hasn’t been used for training since the spring of 2015, and the local community is anxious about the future of the property.

The end of training at Bowie was part of a multi-party 10-year agreement to stabilize Thoroughbred racing in Maryland given new revenue from video lottery terminals at the state’s casinos. Training and stabling was consolidated primarily at Laurel Park and also at Pimlico; both are owned by The Stronach Group.

MJC President and General Manager Sal Sinatra told Senate committee members if the Maryland Stadium Authority report recommends “major construction” to restore Pimlico, or if it says such a plan isn’t feasible, the Bowie facility could be used once again for training. The report could be released in late February or early March.

“It would be my Palm Meadows—a true training center,” Sinatra said in reference to The Stronach Group’s Florida facility that houses horses that race at Gulfstream Park. “We would need some place to put horses.”

The MJC has invested more than $30 million in improvements at Laurel, including construction of new barns—with more to come—and has said it would like Maryland to be the focal point of the six-state Mid-Atlantic region Thoroughbred industry. Another 200 horses are at stabled at Pimlico.

According to testimony at the hearing, offers on the property have gone back and forth, but the $3 million appraisal for the 140-acre Bowie property was deemed insufficient by the MJC.

In response to concerns by city officials and a neighborhood group, the MJC said it would step up a maintenance schedule for the property in the interim and agreed to outline the parameters of plans for Bowie in a memorandum of understanding with the state Senate and the city. Lawmakers who spoke indicated more interest in resolving what one official called a “stalemate” rather than moving forward with the legislation.

Valerie Ormond, secretary for the Maryland Horse Council and a Bowie resident who worked at the track when it offered live racing, said Maryland has about 80,000 horses of all breeds, and that keeping Bowie in the horse business helps a growing industry.

“I didn’t want it to close in the first place,” she told the committee. “We want to somehow support keeping horses at Bowie.”

Bowie Race Course, which opened in 1914 under a different name, is adjacent the Patuxent River in Prince George’s County. Peters, sponsor of the bill and a former county commissioner, said county government years ago invested funds to restore a “horse head” bridge on Race Track Road as well as maintain a covered bridge that took horses from the barn area to the racetrack. Both are still there.

“The county made the investment with the understanding the track be in good shape,” Peters said “It’s a historic piece of ground.”

(Bowie photo by Tom LaMarra)