The Maryland Racing Commission yesterday agreed to begin drawing up regulations that would allow parimutuel wagering on races involving Arabian horses at one or both of the state's mile tracks.
The action followed a ruling by state Attorney General Joseph J. Curren that gave the commission power to authorize Arabian racing in Maryland. As a result, Arabian horses could be running at Laurel and/or Pimlico race courses as early as 1988.
Commission Chairman E. William Furey said it could take "45 days to two months" to assemble the necessary regulations, which then would be subject to reviews and public hearings.
"I would say the commission would seriously consider experimenting with this," Furey said. "Historically, we have given support to the race tracks' many different marketing techniques and innovations. This would be reviewed on a race meeting-to race meeting basis. We'll want to see if it's increasing handle and attendance, and of what benefit it is to the industry."
The innovation was that of Laurel and Pimlico owner Frank De Francis -- aided by friend and Arabian owner/breeder Alec Courtelis. Last month, Laurel officials requested to hold 30 Arabian horse races on 30 days during its fall meeting, Oct. 18 to Dec. 31. But the racing commission resisted, seeking "a more definitive legal opinion."
Arabian horses, bred for beauty and stamina, are significantly slower than thoroughbreds; it is not uncommon for Arabians to cover six furlongs in better than 1 minute 20 seconds. Fewer than 1,000 Arabians are in training, and about 250 of those run at Delaware Park.
The Arabian racing issue has progressed despite protestations of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which fears a dilution of the gambling dollar. But De Francis and proponents argue that Arabian horses will lure more people to the track.
In other activity, the racing commission approved 1988 thoroughbred racing dates. For Laurel: Jan. 1-March 3, June 1-July 5, Oct. 12-Dec. 31. For Pimlico: March 4-May 31, July 6-Aug. 26, Sept. 8-Oct. 11. For Timonium: Aug. 27 -- Sept. 6.