Mid-Atlantic Circuit: Possible ... or Laughable?

With Delaware Park and Monmouth Park both kicking off their live meets May 12, a question came to mind again: What is the status of a Mid-Atlantic racing circuit?

The status is on-again, off-again talks among some racetracks that are interested in creating a circuit that wouldn’t eliminate overlapping meets but at least capitalize on the strengths of each track and better utilize a still strong regional horse population.

The topic has been kicked around by bloggers over the years, with several scenarios suggested. The advent of racetrack gaming in the 1990s changed the dynamics of racing in the Mid-Atlantic region; casino revenue for purses meant protection of racing dates, and the only way a circuit can come about is if racetracks, horsemen’s groups, and state governments commit to a strategy.

The Mid-Atlantic region has lost some luster from a historical perspective but remains a strong market for horse racing. The potential is there for big things.

Change isn’t happening any time soon. But for the heck of it, here’s a plan—obviously flawed—from an interested observer.

The states in the mix are Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. The following are the racetracks and their schedules in the perfect world of “At Large.”

Monmouth Park: Clearly a key meet at a top-class racetrack that has benefited from a reduction in dates. Let’s give Monmouth June, July, and August—and focus all energy on those three months. Jeff Gural at Meadowlands might be willing to let the Thoroughbreds utilize the turf course there in the fall for some additional action, hopefully more than four races a day.

Delaware Park: Not only a gem in the Mid-Atlantic, a gem nationally. It should be the only other track in the immediate area to race live when Monmouth does: June, July, and August. Give the turf course a break in September and then come back in October and November for shorter race weeks when Parx is open.

Parx Racing: Plenty of purse money from the most successful casino in Pennsylvania but too many racing days. Parx would surrender June, July, and August, and race from September through April. The track has put all of its major stakes in the six weeks after Labor Day with success, so that would be its time in the spotlight. By Parx not racing in the summer, Hollywood Casino at Penn National and Presque Isle Downs & Casino would get a boost on the Pennsylvania-bred side. Also heard work has been done on the turf course at Parx—long overdue.

Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course: Doubtful summer racing will ever return to Maryland, which makes things easier. Laurel would race September through March, and Pimlico in April and May. More dates at Timonium in August would be cool, but probably not happening.

Colonial Downs: Far enough away from Delaware and Monmouth, and with no summer racing in Maryland and nice turf course, June, July, and August work well.

Atlantic City Race Course: Nothing $25 million wouldn’t fix. A facility with arguably the best turf course in the country should be preserved. Atlantic City—complete with a new dirt track and new, smaller barn area—would race about 20 days of full cards in May when sister track Parx is closed. Greenwood could consider the investment in upgrades a gift to racing and open-space preservation in New Jersey, and maybe get much-needed political points for doing it.

Hollywood Casinos at Charles Town Races and Penn National: They probably would each do better with 10 months of racing instead of 12. Positive changes to the stakes schedules at both tracks would keep them open in the spring, summer, and fall, but one of them would take November and December off, and the other January and February. An added benefit would be more horses for Laurel and Parx.

Presque Isle and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort: Presque Isle has the right niche racing 100 days from May through September with a broad mix of horses and horsemen and perhaps the finest synthetic surface in North America. Mountaineer races 10 months a year and probably would do itself a favor trimming some days and increasing purses given impending competition from Ohio, should the racetracks survive a legal challenge and install VLTs.

Aside from scheduling, tracks and horsemen would work together to ensure enough year-round stabling. … Yes, a major stretch.

So there it is. To those who know how this industry works and the chances of such a thing happening ... I hope you had a good laugh.

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