A federal mediator today forecast an "even-money" chance of settlement Thursday of the strike at Maryland race tracks.

"I'm optimistic and encouraged by the dialogue and by what has happened today," James William of the Mediation and Conciliation Service said following an exploratory meeting between representatives of the tracks and striking union employees.

"There are still some problems, but the issues are being narrowed. I would say there is an even-money chance of settlement Thursday if the trend continues by both parties."

Al Akman, president of Local 692 Retail Store Employees Union, met today with Sander Wise, the legal counsel for Pimlico, Bowie and Laurel. Full committees from both sides will meet at 1 p.m. Thursday in the mediator's office.

Many Maryland horsemen who had planned to leave area tracks today or tomorrow have delayed their departure pending the outcome of Thursday's talks. There is a possibility, should a settlement be reached then, that Pimlico could open Saturday. No racing was schedule for Good Friday.

The strike by employees enters its 27th day Thursday. There has been no racing in Maryland since March 11 at Bowie. The Pimlico meeting was to have opened Monday, March 21.

The tracks have offered a three year contract with increases of $2.50, $2 and $2 a day.The union is seeking fare benefits at the heart of the disagreement.