The morning showers and the gray skies only added to the gloom that surrounded Pimlico Race Course today. The strike by employes of Maryland's three major tracks had entered its 14th racing day and the situation continued "stagnant," according to Pimlico officials.
"It's Akman who is on strike. It's Akman's personal battle," declared Nathan Cohen, Pimlico's vice president. He was referring to Al Akman, president of Local 692, Retail Store Employes Union, who struck Bowie on March 11 after talks between the union and Bowie, Pimlico and Laurel broke down.
"Akman's whole plan was that Pimlico would give in, when our meeting was about to open (March 21)," Cohen continued. "The whole tone of the negotiations was to stall, to delay, to bring it right up to Pimlico.
"Well, we're in this with Bowie and Laurel, together. We haven't changed our offer (of $2.50, $2 and $2 a day wage increase over a three-year contract). The next move is up to Akman."
Akman, reportedly in Florida, was not available for comment today.
Meanwhile, in the Pimlico back-stretch, the horsemen are becoming more annoyed, a little more bitter, with each passing day of inactivity. Buddy Delp, for years one of Maryland's biggest and most successful trainers, has shipped his 70-horse stable to Chicago. Dickie Dutrow threatens to follow.
"That may make sense for Delp, but guys like me it's just not feasible, [WORK ILLEGIBLE] said John Forbes, another other of the Maryland circult's top conditioners. "The trouble is, it's tough getting stalls in the East, so we van horses every day to New Jersey, New York, Penn National or Charles Town.
"That's expensive. Seventy-five dollars, round trip, to Garden Stateor $165 by yourself, plus $20 to $25 extra for a groom to go along. A lot of horses don't run well after shipping, at a different track, and you hesitate to go there for fear of being claimed.
"It's depressing."STForbes, like many trainers, did not believe the strike would last long. Now he expects the worst.
"The tracks aren't suffering, " he said. "And the employees aren't either.Many of them are retired, or semiretired, with a second job in many cases. It's the people who own the horses who are paying for this. They're still paying $20 to $26 a day to have their horses taken care of, with much less chance of earning anything.
"Apparently it's the ticket-punchers (mutuel clerks) who have the power in this business today, not the horse owners. I have think there are 550 pwople ion the city of Baltimore who would love to make the $40 a day for a job, just to stand there and punch tickets out of a machine.
"But we'll survive," Forbes concluded. "The horsemen have always had to put up with poor conditions, historically, at many tracks, with situations we couldn't do anything about. This is another one. It just means we're going to be shipping more and more horses. I've already vanned more out in two weeks to other tracks than I did all last year.
"I guess the big winner from this will be the men who own the van lines."
Horsemen lose $55,000 a day locally in purses because of the strike. The state loses approximatley the same amount in pari-mutuel taxes. The only aside from the van trips and morning movement in the entire racing scene, workouts, is in Annapolis, where hearings continue in the Senate and the House of Representatives on identical industry bills that seek financial relief to the tracks and horsemen.
The measures would reduce the state's share of the takeout on betting from 5.34 to 4 per cent and increase the take on the triple from 16 to 25 per cent. At present the takeout at the major tracks is 15 per cent on exactas and the triple.
The bills earmark the 1.34 per cent relief from the state to be divided among the tracks (.50 per cent), the Maryland breeding fund (.34 per horsemen for purses (.50 per cent) and cent).