Clarification to This Article
Rosecroft Raceway has not held its own races since 2008, but it did serve as the venue for six days of harness races last year, with purses paid by the Maryland Standardbred Race Fund.

Harness racing workers fight eviction from Rosecroft Raceway

By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 20, 2010

Just as he has done most days since 1957 at Rosecroft Raceway, Florzell "Georgie Boy" Daniels, 80, got up at 4 on a recent morning to sweep up, feed horses, hose down equipment and joke with trainers and owners as buzzing flies landed intermittently on his denim overalls.

"I'd go crazy if I couldn't work," said Daniels, who has a house in Delaware but sleeps most nights in a 10-by-12-foot room in the Fort Washington track's dormitory to be close to the job.

A fixture at Rosecroft, once a thriving center of harness racing that has fallen into bankruptcy, Daniels is one of about 20 horsemen who not only work but also live on a section of the track known as "the backstretch," and who are fighting in court to fend off eviction.

The case had been scheduled to be heard by a Prince George's County Court judge Friday, but the track owner has since had the case moved to federal bankruptcy court. In a response motion yet to be ruled on, the horsemen's attorney opposes the switch, arguing that Circuit Court is the traditional place for eviction cases. The two sides are in a tug of war over which venue should be used for the case.

The track's struggles typify the state of the beleaguered horse-racing industry, a onetime behemoth of American sports that was faltering even before the economic downturn exacerbated its problems. The denizens of Rosecroft -- who range in age from Daniels to the 12-year-old granddaughter of a track employee -- stand to be the next victims of the decline.

Nelson Cohen, an attorney for the track's owner, Cloverleaf Enterprises, said the decision to close the backstretch was "really simple."

"It was a business decision designed to save $35,000 a month" from costs that include insurance, maintenance and employee and equipment expenses, Cohen said. He also said the property is not zoned for the trailer park now there.

"The residents were notified almost a year ago of the intent to close the backstretch and to seek alternative arrangements," Cohen said. "A substantial portion did; others have not."

Some residents said they'd be forced to move out of state to find another training ground if the backstretch is shut down; others questioned whether they could even survive the financial strain of a relocation.

"I'm going to have to find another place to live," said Frank Contrada, 55, a horse trainer who bunks in the dormitory. "It's going to be really hard."

Cloverleaf's president, Kelley Rogers, said their decision to stay is selfish.

"It's just the brazen selfishness of that group there," Rogers said. "They're all friends of ours. . . . But the backstretch is going to close."

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