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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Wednesday Night Notes - Sept 7

- Magna has now officially confirmed that they will request significantly reduced racing days in Maryland for 2006. How typical of the company to make this announcement on the same day that their costly and much-delayed reconstruction of the Laurel turf course came to fruition with competitive opening day grass races filled to the brim and, according to TVG, rave reviews from the horsemen.

Pimlico would bear the brunt of the cuts. Laurel would open the year with a 60 day meeting running until April 15. But Pimlico would race only 18 days, with the meet culminating on Preakness Day. There would then be no racing in Maryland until a 34 day Laurel meeting opens Nov 3. The schedule is set up that way for a reason. The horsemen have an agreement with Magna for a minimum of 220 live racing days a year, but that agreement expires in the middle of 2006. [Daily Racing Form] The final tally would be 112 racing days.

Magna made the cynical claim that the reduction would lead to higher purses and therefore better quality racing, but that crap is just for the press releases. The attention immediately turned to the issue at hand, as Governor Ehrlich and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller called for a special session of the state legislature to finally approve the slot machines that would level the playing field with the surrounding states. Ehrlich said the legislature "could get this done literally in an hour" if he, the House and the Senate agree ahead of time on a bill...."Let's get it done. This is 20,000 jobs for the state of Maryland.”

But House Speaker Michael Busch, a fierce opponent of expanded gambling, was, as always, unaffected.

Busch said Magna's move seemed to be a solid business decision to make the two thoroughbred tracks more competitive. Asked if the cutbacks were too severe, he said he wouldn't know "until I hear from the industry."

Busch was cool to the idea of a special session, although he did not take a position for or against bringing back the legislature prior to the 2006 General Assembly session in January. [Baltimore Sun]
I respect Busch’s opposition to slots, as I would for anyone as long as they’re not thumping a Bible, and I’ve noted in the past that he makes some excellent points. Besides, he’s a Democrat in a state ruled by a Republican governor for the first time in 30 years (and one whose ethics seem in line with the rest of his party.) In truth, there’s not much good to be said for slots, other than the fact that our game is, at least for the time being, irrevocably bound to them. But the Speaker has virtually single-handedly stood in the way of slots in Maryland for three years now, and his continued stubbornness, first in the face of machines being approved in Pennsylvania, and now the imminent contraction of racing in the state is starting to reek more of arrogance than ring with principle. The horsemen and breeders whose futures are at stake will have to wait and hope from the sidelines as the political wheeling and dealing runs its course.

- Magna chief Frank Stronach has bigger plans for the 260 Katrina evacuees who he had airlifted to his Palm Meadows training center in Florida. He plans to spend $2 million to build a “model community” for them to live in once the horses and horsemen return to the training center in November. You can sense the same wild optimism – almost a utopian vision – that is behind his lavish transformation of Gulfstream Park into a grand entertainment/ condominium complex in which residents awake to the Daily Racing Form delivered to their doorstep and the TV is always tuned to Horse Racing TV. The Toronto Star reports:
"We would like to build a small community where we would try to be sponsors for the next five to seven years," he said in an interview.

"We would hopefully be able to put in an infrastructure whereby you would create a new life for them, a life of hope, spirit, so that they will be self-supporting and not on welfare. That's the idea."

Stronach, chairman and founder of both Magna companies, said the community's population could reach up to 2,000 and could include a technical school and community centre if other companies and individuals offered money or their services.

"We could be a role model to end poverty," he said. "Let's try something bigger. We're neighbours to Americans, and neighbours help each other."
Stronach added: "It will also be a uniquely Canadian solution."

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