Timonium Race Course, the lone survivor among Maryland's so-called "half-mile" thoroughbred race tracks, has proposed to relinquish 32 of its 42 racing dates to the state's three mile tracks next year, and the plan is being received with general approval by legislators handling racing matters and the office of Gov. Harry Hughes.
But the amount Timonium, a five-eighths-mile track, will receive for the dates, and the manner in which it will be paid for them, are not certain.
Under the proposal, according to sources, the state would guarantee Timonium $600,000 annually for relinquishing the dates, but Timonium officials are holding out for at least $1 million annually. The payments would be for an indefinite period.
In return, the 32 days would be assigned to Bowie, Pimlico or Laurel, giving them year-round continuity for the first time. Timonium still would race 10 days during the state fair. The dates would be owned by the state, which currently owns 48 summer racing days and assigns 16 to each of the mile tracks.
Early last spring, Hughes wrote a strongly worded letter to Timonium officials, suggesting that its dates be transferred to the mile tracks or he would introduce legislation to bring that about.
Lou Panos, a spokesman for Hughes, said that the governor is aware of the Timonium proposal and "believes it to be a step in the right direction."
There will be a meeting of representatives of all the tracks Thursday with a blue-ribbon panel appointed by the various track interests to make recommendations for improving Maryland racing. The panel is expected to give full backing to the Timonium proposal.
The legislation is expected to be passed should all parties agree. State Sen. Denis Rasmussen of Baltimore County, vice chairman of the Finance Committee, said, "It is a reasonable approach to racing's problems."
However, there is another line of thinking in Annapolis that does not want the state to set a precedent by setting a price on racing dates. Instead, a grant would be made to the state fair independent of the racing dates. Some legislators prefer that the mile tracks buy the dates, but the tracks have thus far declined.
With 32 more racing days to share, the Maryland tracks would be left in a better position for eventual consolidation. The negotiations to sell Bowie to Pimlico include a plan to include Laurel in the purchase of the Prince George's County track, hence the sharing in any additional racing dates, whether they are bought or granted by the state.