Vic Zast

From the perspective of being an owner, an industry pioneer in corporate sponsorship, a track president and fan, Vic Zast writes the "Destinations" column for The Blood-Horse. His five-star ratings of international events have shed light on racing in all corners of the globe - from England, Australia, Hong Kong, Dubai to Japan.

Vic is a regular contributor to, a columnist for the Illinois Racing News and has written on racing for, National Public radio and The Age, Australia's leading daily.

Vic makes his home in Chicago and lives in Saratoga Springs in August.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On the Tenth Day of Christmas, Maryland Racing

(SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – December 22, 2010) There is no sadder news at Christmastime than the death of an old friend. Laurel Park racecourse closed for the season a few days ago and the future of Maryland horse racing is in doubt. Aside from a few days in springtime, when the throngs gather at Old Hilltop for the Preakness, there isn’t much life left in the carcasses that the Old Line Staters call racetracks. Guys like Jim McKay, Chick Lang and Clem Florio would spin in their graves if they knew what was happening.

Trouble follows Frank Stronach around like flies on a dead man walking. Maryland is only the most recent horse racing jurisdiction that has felt the sting of his visionary mien. The auto parts magnate from Austria by way of Canada is, of course, right that the thoroughbred sport can’t go beyond 40 percent of the year without slots. But he disregards collateral damage with a Chris Christie heartlessness that makes you cringe when you credit him for wisdom.

Stronach’s real estate company MI Developments and casino operator Penn National, its partner in the Maryland Jockey Club, wanted to shrink Laurel and Pimlico to 47 days. Once the State rejected this plan outright, the duo acquiesced to the same number of dates as 2009, which totaled 146 combined. In return, the horse owners were told they must cover $1.7 million of cost, give up their rake on simulcasting and support the closure of Bowie - the first winter horse racing track, now a training center.

Eventually, Gov. Martin O’Malley will order that the owner, the operators and the horsemen work something out. Horses have raced in the state since it was a colony. At risk are 10,000 jobs, to say nothing about his re-election. The people of Maryland may not support horse racing like they once did, but taking it away from them would hurt almost as much as moving the Colts to Indiana.

Meanwhile, as the haggling continues, the holidays will seem like the end of days for many people, their hopes dashed, their prospects for sustained work bleak. Many of these workers aren’t employable elsewhere. Here’s a wish that Santa creates something to cheer them up soon. Desperation is a mean dog to live with.

Only two more wish to this 12 Days of Christmas series. You can read the previous nine entries by scanning the links to the right under archives.

Written by Vic Zast

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