Senate President Miller: Buy Preakness, build track if Magna sells

Daily Record Business Writer
March 17, 2009 8:05 PM

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said Tuesday that the state should consider building a racetrack and buying the Preakness Stakes if Pimlico’s bankrupt owner is forced to sell it.

Alan Forman, general council for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horseman's Association, speaks to the Maryland Racing Commission during Tuesday’s meeting at Laurel. Commission Chairman John B. Franzone, left, and Commissioner Louis Ulman listen.But at a meeting of the Maryland Racing Commission later in the day, Maryland Jockey Club owner Tom Chukas said it is “business as usual” right now.

“The bottom line is Maryland live racing will continue, simulcasting will continue and Preakness will continue,” he said.

Chuckas noted that since parent company Magna Entertainment Corp. declared bankruptcy on March 5, the Jockey Club has received a $13.4 million loan to continue operations while the corporation reorganizes.

Miller, D-Calvert and Prince George’s, told reporters Tuesday morning that building a track and buying the Preakness, by far Pimlico Race Course’s biggest money-maker, would be “last ditch” options the state might have to consider to keep Preakness here.

Racing is important to Maryland, Miller added, pointing to stories about George Washington coming from Virginia to wager on horses in Annapolis.

“I think those that want to throw history under the bus, in my opinion deserve to be thrown under the bus themselves,” Miller said.

Maryland law provides significant limitations on the transfer or sale of the Preakness name, effectively giving the state the first chance to buy the name if it goes up for sale.

“It certainly would be easier to build a racetrack rather than lose that millions and millions of dollars of that Maryland money,” Miller said. “Also, it’s part of our tradition.”

The racing commission’s legal counsel emphasized that the commission was looking out for Maryland’s interest in the bankruptcy proceedings. Bruce Spizler noted he and attorneys from other racing commissions around the country that had been affected by Magna’s bankruptcy may form an “unsecured creditors committee” to ensure stronger influence during the bankruptcy proceedings.

In addition to Pimlico, Magna owns Laurel Race Course, Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif., and Golden Gate Fields in the San Francisco Bay area, as well as casinos and pari-mutuel wagering operations.

Magna also recently paid the $3.8 million it owed to the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association for the horsemen’s fund, Spizler said.

“We are being represented in court ... and are making sure we retain the right of first refusal for Preakness,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O'Malley said it's too early to say whether the state should get involved if the Preakness is put up for sale, but the governor supports having the race in Maryland.

"The governor is willing to work with the leaders of the General Assembly to ensure the Preakness stays in the state of Maryland," said Christine Hansen, the spokeswoman.

Alexandra Hughes, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said that speculating about the future of the Preakness is premature.

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