Cheri Collison has a mare in foal and a decision to make. She bred Yankee Empress to get an offspring eligible for a bonus program restricted to Maryland-born standardbreds, but the uncertain future of the state's harness tracks has her contemplating whether to birth the foal in another state with a similar program.

"What happens if {Rosecroft Raceway} goes under?" she said. "The things I've planned for become meaningless. I've got to make a quick decision."

The legal and financial problems of harness track owner Mark Vogel have led to an air of uneasiness surrounding Rosecroft. While some horsemen and backstretch workers fear for their livelihoods, track employees have taken a wait-and-see approach, and many bettors at the Oxon Hill track seem mostly undistracted.

In a series of interviews recently, breeders, owners, trainers and track employees expressed anxiety about the future of Maryland's harness-racing industry given Vogel's faltering real estate empire. Some along the backstretch said they are considering leaving the state for a more secure environment.

Under state advisement, Vogel relinquished control of Rosecroft and Delmarva Downs -- Maryland's only harness tracks -- in September after the Maryland Racing Commission learned he jeopardized their solvency by directing $2 million in track assets for non-racing purposes. The problems surfaced after Vogel was arrested Sept. 13 in Virginia and charged with felony cocaine possession; he pleaded guilty two months later and received one year of probation.

Vogel has said he likely will sell the tracks or attempt to refinance them. He said he wants at least $20 million for Rosecroft and Delmarva Downs, and believes the growing prospect of off-track betting in Maryland will help him get it. He faces a Saturday deadline from the First National Bank of Maryland to show progress in his effort to refinance or sell.

Legislators have voiced concern over the specter of track foreclosures, with a $10 million mortage payment coming due and Vogel strapped for cash. That scenario has brought fear to sections of the backstretch.

"It's not just a job; it's a total lifestyle for 90 percent of the people back here," said Betty Pielert, a breeder. "They live and breathe it. It's a community unto itself. Some of these grooms and all, they can't make it anywhere else. People are discouraged and they're scared."

"I'm obviously concerned because all my money comes from racing," said trainer Danny Murray, who also works as a maitre d' in the Rosecroft dining room. "But what can I do? We have no control; somebody else has to make the decision. That's the bad part: it's our livelihood and we have no input at all.

"A lot of people plan on getting out of here soon because of the bad time with Vogel, but . . . I don't see the state letting this place go down. I'm staying until the end."

The Maryland Racing Commission has the power to deny Vogel an operating license for 1991, but that probably won't be invoked. In losing financial and operational control of the tracks, Vogel has become a ruler in exile with little choice but to sell. The cash from a sale would bring needed aid to his troubled real estate concerns.

"This track has been a rudderless ship," said trainer Ron MacArthur, a former director of the U.S. Trotting Association.

"There are a lot of major initiatives that have been put into place this year that have been beneficial to the harness horseman," said track general manager Jim Murphy, who has become Rosecroft's de facto leader since Vogel relinquished power. Murphy said Vogel's well-publicized problems have detracted from an otherwise productive year at the state's harness tracks. He noted Delmarva Downs's record summer as it cross-simulcast races with Rosecroft for the first time, and a basic agreement reached with Maryland's thoroughbred tracks concerning an off-track betting bill. He also said it's "remarkable" that Rosecroft's average nightly handle is only 2.5 percent below that of last year after it added 100 dates because of Freestate's closing.Sense of Helplessness

Still, many track employees said a sense of helplessness pervades, and some spoke of low morale.

"People are sort of sitting back, waiting to see what happens," said Richard Gaghagen, a full-time mutuel teller. "You can't do anything about it, so why worry about it. I don't think the track knows what's going to happen."

Another employee in the parimutuel department said: "It started out, just a couple people were getting discouraged. It seems as time goes on that more and more people are like, 'Maybe I should start thinking about interviewing for some other jobs.' The last four months, the general attitude has gone downhill. People are very discouraged. Nobody is policing this place. It's like there's an overall cloud hanging over."

But most fans -- the lifeline of any racetrack -- seemed unaffected. "I've not noticed any difference," said Joe Bates, an Annapolis resident who said he goes to Rosecroft about twice a week. "I feel sorry for the man {Vogel}, but I don't think the track has suffered any. It's a nice place, and it continues to be nice. He evidently had himself surrounded with a lot of good people."

Charles Hux said he drives from Baltimore to Rosecroft almost every night the harness track is open, and has been no less eager to make the trip since Vogel's troubles were made public.

"For all the things they said he was doing, it hasn't seemed to affect any of the services," Hux said. "It seems to be the same to me. Everything seems to be going along all right."

A number of racegoers lauded the decision to make Wednesday a second all-triple night until the racing year ends Dec. 22, saying trifecta betting is a way of overcoming prevalent low payoffs. Rosecroft is scheduled to reopen Jan. 11.Lack of Interest Seen

Workers, however, said management has helped create an air of indifference with lax promoting and advertising. Trainer George Warthen, who drove at Rosecroft the night it opened in 1949, said: "We feel they're more interested in real estate than they are racing. It's a shame."

Murphy defended the track's use of advertising funds. "If there were unlimited marketing dollars, would the handle be that much higher?" he said. "You have to look at structural changes to the market -- things like OTB. There's a limit to where your market capabilities are. The tracks are operating close to their marketing potential."

The future of Rosecroft and Delmarva is a growing topic of discussion, particularly among those with no other means of employment.

"It seems like nobody's looking at what's going to happen down the road aside from what's going to happen to the racing establishment," Collison said. "It could be real costly to a lot of people."