No Detailed Update From Laurel on Massive Track Repair Project

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MJC

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Thursday's Maryland Racing Commission (MRC) meeting figured to provide an update on the massive main track base and cushion repair project that has kept Laurel Park dark since Apr. 10 and caused the entire backstretch community to relocate to either Pimlico Race Course, the Timonium fairgrounds, or private stabling.

But beyond noting that all horses had been moved out of the Laurel backstretch as of May 26 and thanking horsemen for their cooperation, Sal Sinatra, the president of the Maryland Jockey Club (MJC), which owns Laurel and Pimlico, only reported to the commission when asked to give an update that “I'm anxious and hopeful that by July 1 it does get done.”

Sinatra then added, “Weather permitting.”

The brevity of that update stands in stark contrast to the extensive grilling that executives from the MJC-and its parent company, The Stronach Group (TSG)-faced at last month's MRC meeting, when commissioners told track management it should have had the foresight to identify and remedy the difficulties earlier, and that the spiraling multi-million-dollar project represented “an accumulation of bad decisions over time.”

Sinatra mentioned several times during the May 27 meeting that that he is not directly involved in the track reconstruction project. But no other MJC or TSG executives were made available to explain the work in detail to commissioners.

Thursday's meeting was held at Pimlico, which has been given commission approval to host the Laurel race dates through June 30.

One commissioner (it was unclear who on the audio stream because he did not identify himself) took umbrage with the MJC providing such a sparse report. He asked Sinatra about details such as a firm timeline for moving forward with the work, or contingency plans for what might happen if the project falls behind.

“I hear you. I'm hopeful,” Sinatra replied. “Again, I'm kind of removed from that project.”

The commissioner shot back: “I understand. That's why I'm asking that you go back to your organization [to find out] some kind of timeline, a critical path of what's got to happen by certain days for the next thing to happen [to] get this thing done in 30 days. I understand you're not involved. But I was hoping that we would get an update on [a project that is] so critical to Maryland racing.”

Sinatra said he would relay the message to his fellow MJC and TSG executives and get back to the commission. He agreed that the project was crucial to everyone involved, noting that agreements for Timonium stabling and putting up backstretch workers in hotels are “predicated on like June 30 to July 5. I mean, we're going to be up against it if we go past” what is already a tight timeline, he said.

Commissioner Michael Algeo then stepped in and suggested that someone from Sinatra's team get in touch with the commission on the Tuesday after this upcoming holiday weekend to set up a time when the MJC and TSG can provide a more detailed update to the board.

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