Horsemen briefed on future plans for Maryland Thoroughbred racing

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Jan. 19, 2024

Finalization of agreements with 1/ST RACING (The Stronach Group) and action by the state General Assembly are among the important aspects of the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority’s plans to consolidate live racing at a rebuilt Pimlico Race Course and construction of a training center at a yet-to-be-selected location.

MTROA Chair Greg Cross and Alan Foreman, a voting member of the authority’s Board of Directors, provided an overview and fielded questions during a Jan. 11 webinar hosted by the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. The meeting was held a day after the launch of the 2024 Maryland General Assembly legislative session.

As noted earlier, reports issued by the MTROA focus on Pimlico as the eventual home for a minimum of 140 live racing dates per year and development of a training center at one of three locations: Shamrock Farm near Woodbine, Mitchell Farm near Aberdeen, and the former Bowie Training Center. Cross during the meeting noted that the state legislature “wants to heavily weigh in” on the decision to select the property for the training center.

There would be about 1,400 stalls between Pimlico and the training center, which would have most them.

“We think it’s critical for the industry as best it can to coalesce around one of (the training center sites),” Foreman said. “The industry’s view of what’s best for the industry is critical.”

The MTROA, after various consultations and studies, has decided that a not-for-profit operating structure under the MTROA is the best path forward for Maryland racing. In order to facilitate it, there must an agreement with 1/ST RACING for the operator to transfer control of day-to-day racing and the Pimlico title to the state. It also requires a “licensing agreement” with 1/ST RACING so the MTROA can operate and promote the Preakness Stakes and Black-Eyed Susan Stakes programs.

The MTROA and its not-for-profit would pay an annual licensing fee but have full control over all revenue streams from the Preakness, Cross said.

Cross and Foreman noted legislative support is needed for aspects of the project, including changes to the 2020 Racing and Community Development Act and the expected transfer of the Preakness to Laurel Park in 2025-26 given construction of the new Pimlico, which could be ready to host the race again in 2027. The legislation is currently being written, Foreman said.

The timeline for the transition plan is for Maryland racing to move to a not-for-profit model by Jan. 1, 2025. That means the MTROA would be in charge of Laurel through a transition period expected to last through 2026 and maybe beyond.”

There’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Cross, an attorney with Venable LLC. “We still need to document a deal with (1/ST RACING).”

Though Pimlico would have a stabling area, there would not be dormitories for backstretch workers. Cross said the plan calls for workers to be housed in nearby complexes that are part of an overall Park Heights redevelopment initiative. The three training center plans also do not include dormitories, which Cross said would cost $25 million to $30 million to construct.

In response to questions from horsemen about on-site housing, Foreman said: “It’s really something that needs to be discussed. No decisions have been made regarding housing. It must be studied and considered.”

Cross said the MTROA proposal without a private operator is a “bet-on-ourselves model. It’s up to us to make decisions and there won’t be anyone to blame to but ourselves” if there are issues.

“This project has been undertaken by some of the best experts, not only in this business but outside this business,” Foreman said. “We will entice horsemen from around the country to come to Maryland to race.”

Still remaining are steps to finalize acquisition of property for a training center; formalize agreements with 1/ST RACING; new design plans for Pimlico to accommodate year-round racing; launch of the permitting process for the Pimlico property; and identifying a not-for-profit operator for Maryland racing.