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Racing plan for Laurel Park, Pimlico stuck at the starting gate

Pimlico Race Course

“There will be a Preakness and there will be racing dates,” McGee said. “To me it’s implausible that there won’t be a Preakness there because of something like this. I think everybody knows that, and something will get done.”

With Maryland thoroughbred racing and the Preakness Stakes in jeopardy, Penn National Gaming Inc. said Tuesday it will continue to work with its corporate partner to develop a plan for Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course in 2011.

Penn National and MI Developments Inc. were dealt a setback Monday evening when the Maryland Racing Commission threw out their plan to slash live racing, opting to send the companies back to the drawing board rather than settle for an option the state’s horsemen said would spell doom for the industry.

The result has been confusion and uncertainty, with no racing scheduled for next year, a host of conflicting positions and pitfalls to navigate and dire consequences if a deal isn’t struck.

“There’s no license to operate right now,” commission Chairman Louis J. Ulman said when asked about the fate of the Preakness. “Hopefully somebody will come up with a plan to rescue Maryland racing.”

Marty McGee, a Kentucky-based correspondent for The Daily Racing Form and a former Baltimore Sun racing columnist, said there would have to be “more compelling factors” to end the Preakness’ run at Pimlico.

“There will be a Preakness and there will be racing dates,” McGee said. “To me it’s implausible that there won’t be a Preakness there because of something like this. I think everybody knows that, and something will get done.”

Ulman said he hopes the Jockey Club will submit another plan for 2011 by Dec. 21, the last time the panel will meet this year.

Many in the industry said they, too, expect to see racing in the Maryland in 2011, but there remains a gulf between the commission’s expectations and what MID and Penn National have been willing to put on the table.

“I would be very receptive to a plan to keep Maryland racing going on a year-round basis,” Ulman said, adding that anything less would lead to job losses in an industry estimated to employ 10,000.

Penn National and MID offered 47 days of live racing from January to May, down from the 146 held in 2010. MID Vice President of Gaming and Racing Mike Rogers on Monday called that model “broken.”

The commissioners also maintain their vote would bar Penn National from operating the tracks.

But Tuesday, a spokesman for the gaming company said the joint venture survives, and the partners, which together own the Maryland Jockey Club, will “explore all options for the operations of racing in Maryland.”

Penn National “and MID hope to maintain and open and constructive dialogue with the Racing Commission in the coming days and weeks with a hope to find a constructive resolution for all parties,” the spokesman, D. Eric Schippers, wrote in an e-mailed statement.

“This is a lawyer’s dream here,” said John Franzone, a member of the racing commission.

Requests for comment from the Jockey Club Tuesday were referred to MID, and Rogers did not return calls seeking comment.

The companies also face the powerful potential veto of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, which have the power to cut off simulcasts at Pimlico and Laurel Park, leaving the tracks without income and foot traffic drawn by races run across the country.

“I think it’s a game of corporate chicken right now,” said Tom Bowman, president of the breeders group.

“We’ve never made that public threat, but it’s obviously something that looms over the whole process,” he said of stopping the simulcast signal. “We would have to consider that as a last-ditch effort. I’d hate to see that happen.”

Bowman said he fears losing state assistance if there is a racing hiatus in 2011. The state sends 9.5 percent of slot machine revenue to breeding operations, racing purses and matching grants for racetrack improvements.

Richard J. Hoffberger, Bowman’s counterpart at the horsemen’s association, would not discuss the use of the simulcast power, but said the 47-day plan outlined by Penn National and MID would not sustain the industry.

Asked if the state would exercise its power to seize the tracks and the Preakness through eminent domain, Rick Abbruzzese, spokesman for Gov. Martin O’Malley, said the governor would continue to meet with the corporate interests in Maryland racing.