BALTIMORE, JULY 8 -- The Maryland Racing Commission today approved a request for experimental intertrack wagering between Laurel and Pimlico race courses. The commission also reinstated jockey Ron Franklin, who was barred from racing last fall for using marijuana.
Because the intertrack betting proposal is considered an emergency regulation, it needs final approval by the Administrative Executive and Legislative Review Committee, a joint committee of the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates.
Under the proposal, races would be simulcast to Laurel during Pimlico's fall meeting, Sept. 8 to Oct. 17. Horseplayers would watch races and wager in Laurel's Sports Palace, with the mutuel pools tied into those at Pimlico. In the event of large crowds, Laurel would open its first-floor clubhouse.
The race tracks have solved most of the logistical problems, according to Martin Jacobs, Pimlico's treasurer and general counsel.
"We are finalizing our arrangements for all of the elements involved," said Jacobs, who represented the tracks today. "We should have everything in place when Sept. 8 arrives."
Jacobs would not reveal the cost of the endeavor, but said, "It is a costly experiment. But we look at it as a good investment, a long-term benefit for Maryland racing."
The racing commission's approval today was a formality; it previously upheld the race tracks' request to simulcast Pimlico's May 16 Preakness Day card to Laurel, but the Maryland Department of Licensing and Regulation refused to endorse that measure. However, the department is not likely to block the regulation's progress this time, according to a source.
Laurel and Pimlico owner Frank De Francis prompted the push for intertrack wagering. Should the system succeed, De Francis said he would seek approval to simulcast to Pimlico when Laurel reopens Oct. 18.
"There has never been an intrastate wagering system in Maryland," De Francis said. "That being the case, there's a whole new set of circumstances -- we've got to involve the telephone company, we have to involve the tote company in a different way, and we have to involve the video. Trying to join these three components is something that's never before been done in this state."
In clearing Franklin to participate in races, the commission reinstated a jockey with a history of drug problems. "I told him he'll be living in a fish bowl," said commission chairman E. William Furey. "He has no room now to violate the trust placed in him."
Franklin, 27, achieved fame in 1979 when he rode Spectacular Bid to victories in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. Less than two weeks after a third-place finish in the Belmont that year, Franklin was arrested in California for cocaine possession, and a string of personal and career setbacks ensued.
He last was suspended for marijuana use during Laurel's fall 1986 meeting. On April 2, the racing commission granted Franklin a license to exercise horses, which he has been doing for trainer John Walters.
Under the terms of his reinstatement, Franklin will be given unannounced drug tests, must continue psychological therapy and must be off the race track by sundown.
"There were no objections from the jockeys guild, the stewards or his therapist," Furey said. "He has turned his life around in terms of his companions and personal environment, and we thought it best if we allow him to pursue the most productive aspect of his profession instead of delaying it interminably."
Franklin may begin riding competitively Friday at Pimlico. He could not be reached for comment.
In another development, the commission granted Rosecroft Raceway's request to reduce its fall meeting from 58 to 53 days. Rosecroft will offset the change with 11-race programs on weeknights and 12-race programs Friday through Sunday.
Under the revised schedule, the Prince George's County harness track will operate Wednesday through Sunday, Oct. 7-Nov. 8; Friday through Sunday, Nov. 13-Dec. 30 (Christmas excepted).