Lou Raffetto: Maryland Jockey Club

[image url="http://cdn.bloodhorse.com/images/content/lraffetto_large.jpg"]Lou Raffetto[/image]

Lou Raffetto is in his seventh year managing all aspects of the day-to-day operations as the MJC’s Chief Operating Officer, taking over on January 1, 2001. In February 2006 he was promoted the President.

Raffetto earned rave reviews as the Executive Vice President of Racing of Suffolk Downs in Boston from 1991 to 2000. He helped set the stage for the initial full-scale simulcasting operation at Suffolk in 1992 and also engineered the lucrative programs that put the Massachusetts Handicap back on the map, earning a 1996 Special Achievement Award from the New England Turf Writers Association.

From 1985 to 1991, Raffetto worked at Monmouth Park in New Jersey as Assistant General Manager.

His return to Maryland is a homecoming of sorts for Raffetto, since he was Racing Secretary at Laurel from 1978 to 1984 and graduated from Georgetown in 1972. Following college, the Spring Lake, NJ native trained horses on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania circuits before switching to the management side of the sport.

At a time when the future of racing in Maryland is uncertain at best and supporters are hoping for approval of slots at racetracks to restore some viablitlty to the industry, Raffetto has agreed to spend some time with us during Preakness week at Pimlico.

Las Vegas, NV:
Can you comment on the Jockeys Guild, past and present. It seems as though jockeys and racetrack management have been far apart on many issues and the Guild seems to be ineffective. I believe the industry should be doing more to promote the jockey. What are your thoughts?

While it is true there have been many points of contention between the Jockey’s Guild and management for many years, the fact of the matter is that the representatives of the racetracks have been very willing to listen to the concerns of the Guild and have responded by increasing the amount of insurance for the riders and, more specifically, have contributed large sums to the Disabled Jockey’s Fund.  I do agree that, if we are able to reach some agreement with the Guild, then it would be worth the effort to utilize the jockeys to help promote the industry.

Rising Sun, MD:
How do you feel about the new Maryland Lottery Racetrack game? I find it ironic in view of the opposition to slots at the track. Does any of the money go to the horsemen or is it just another competition for the betting dollar?

While I would prefer that there was no such game, the fact of the matter is that it does exist and because it is part of the Lottery under the direction of the Administration, we have made a conscious decision to work with them rather than against them.  As part of the agreement with the Lottery they are sponsoring this year’s Barbaro Stakes on the undercard on Preakness Day. It is our hope that this partnership would be expanded in 2008.  At this point in time, none of the money from the Racetrax Game goes to purses, however, a bill was introduced in the Legislature this year that transferred $24 million from the game to the Purse Fund.  Unfortunately, that piece of legislation was not passed, but we are hopeful that there will be beneficial legislation in the coming months.

Saratoga, California:
In the aftermath of Barbaro's breakdown in the Preakness, you stated that analysis of the incident showed Brother Derek had in fact struck Barbaro and may have caused the injury. It was then going to be reviewed by the state Racing Commission; what was the final conclusion?

Upon review of last year’s Preakness, the Racing Commission found that based on the available film of the race that they could make no conclusive decision as to what truly occurred.  The fact of the matter is that we will never know for sure.  It was a terrible tragedy that has led to many positives.

Marco Island, FL:
With states like Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Indiana, Florida, Delaware, and Louisiana all implementing slot machines (for their survival) why is the most famous state associated with the race horse (next to Kentucky) so adamantine? As a former Monmouth regular, I wish you luck in moving a great brand forward.

Trust me, it has been very frustrating to see the surrounding states build their racing programs on the fortunes of slots, especially when so much of the revenue comes from the State of Maryland.  I do believe in light of recent comments by the Speaker of the House that, while it might be some months off, we will get a slots bill in Maryland that will enable us to stay competitive in the region and, in the coming years allow Maryland racing and breeding to grow and prosper, and to regain its rightful position in racing hierarchy.  Thank you for your good wishes.. 

Hudsonville, MI:
I am thinking of coming over to see the Preakness next year instead of the Derby. Convince me!

Like the old cereal commercial goes, “Try it you’ll Like it”.  It is a totally different experience, one that is much more down to earth.  The Derby is a wonderful event, but I truly feel that the people fortunate enough to attend the Preakness, feel as though they have been a part of the event, not just a spectator.  Beyond that, our admission, seating and dining packages are all considerable cheaper than the Derby so at the end of the day you will have more money to gamble with.

Newport, RI:
Wouldn't you say that slots make purses artificially high, creating and/or maintaining supply of something for which there is no corresponding demand?

My simple answer is no.  I do not believe that slots make purses artificially high, certainly not in the better racing jurisdictions such as those located in the Mid-Atlantic area where the related costs to breeding and racing horses are so high.  One might make that argument in cases of Charles Town or Mountaineer, where the quality of racing has not improved with the influx of slots dollars.  However, those were decisions made by the horsemen in those respective areas to discourage new outfits from racing there.  Again, you must remember that they money generated from slots goes far beyond the purses that are given out on a daily basis.  It eventually makes its way to the breeders, which encourages individuals to keep their farms as open spaces rather than selling them off for development.

Arnold, MO:
Bay Meadows is slated to become a strip mall, as is Hollywood Park. Voters in California rejected Magna's plan to build a new track. Michigan is losing a track. Several tracks have had to either eliminate racing dates or reduce the number of races on their programs because of small fields. Tracks in Illinois, especially Fairmount Park, are struggling against the casinos. And it seems every year, in his post-Preakness speech, the Governor of the Great State of Maryland, tells us that he will do all he can to keep Maryland racing viable. Has anything happened to bring this annual promise closer to reality? Are there any contingency plans, just in case, that will keep the Preakness at Pimlico where it belongs instead of being moved to, for example, Lone Star. Nothing against Lone Star, it's a beautiful facility, but the Preakness should always be held at the track where it was born.

As recently as this past week, the Governor personally told me that they were working on the problem and, subsequently, the Speaker of the House who has been the staunchest opponent has gone on record that he will support a slots bill.  We are extremely hopeful that a bill will be moved in the coming months, hopefully in a special session this Fall.  As we plan for 2008, it would be most beneficial to know if we were going to have a bill or not.  A special session would be preferable, but after waiting so long we will be happy to get a bill in any time in the near future.  Additionally, I agree with your assessment, the Preakness should always be held here at Pimlico.  I do believe that this will be the case provided that not in the not too distant future that the Legislature in its infinite wisdom passes a slots bill.

Middletown, NJ:
Mr. Raffeto, I love Preakness Day and have attended the infield for the last several years. It's a great time!! My question is: Why can't the track put more tellers or any betting machines in the infield on Preakness day? By mid-afternoon in the infield, you have to wait a minimum of 20-30 minutes to place a bet. Wouldn't the track make more money if it took bets more efficiently/faster? I just think it would benefit both the fans and the track!!

One of the most difficult parts of planning Preakness Day is getting the proper staffing for the facility.  We bus individuals in from all over the east coast to work in Mutuels.  At the end of the day, I must admit that if there is a shortage of clerks, it probably does occur in the Infield where many of the attendees don’t even realize that there is a race going on.  However, I will pass your comments on to our Mutuels Director for review to see whether we can alleviate the problem to some extent.

Elkridge, MD:
Lou, thanks for taking the time today and good luck for a great preakness weekend. One question. How long is the Preakness contracted to be at Pimlico (or at least in MD) and can that change if slots are not approved and the economic situation for MD racing does not improve?

The Preakness is not actually contracted to be at Pimlico.  It has always been a part of Pimlico, and I believe that will remain the case, provided that the Legislature finally acts on a slots bill in the coming months. I am hopeful that this will occur and that Maryland racing can move forward. 

O'Fallon, IL:
Can you speculate on when the Pimlico Special might return?

It is my hope that the Pimlico Special will be run in 2008.  Should for any reason this does not occur, then the Special would lose its grading, which would be devastating.  We are hoping that passage of a slots bill in addition to a transitional purse subsidy would provide the funds for the 2008 running.  If this does not happen, then we will have to come up with a different more creative scenario to fund the race.

Columbia, MO:
There are no Maryland bred horses in this year's Preakness. What does that say about the Maryland breeding program?

It is no surprise that the Maryland Breeding Industry has been suffering for a number of years.  The competition from the surrounding states, namely West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania has encouraged breeders to move their studs and mares to those respective jurisdictions.  We continue to see a decline that will only be reversed if and when we are provided with the revenue from slots that will allow us to compete on the proverbial level playing field with the surrounding states. 

Silver Spring, MD:
Any special upcoming promotions we can look forward to after the Preakness?

We will be offering twilight racing on Thursdays and Fridays for the three weeks after the Preakness.  Post time will be at 3:15 p.m., with free admission, two for one beer, and two for $22 three-course dinners.  Additionally on Memorial Day we are having Fan Appreciate Day with free admission, free live program and concession specials.

Arcadia, Ca:
Why do they call you Relentless Lou?

Because I was relentless in my pursuit of one of America’s leading trainers, Bob Baffert, getting him to run Real Quiet in the MassCap at Suffolk Downs in the late 90’s.  Bob gave me that nick-name. 

Edmond, OK:
Can you elaborate on the plans to honor Barbaro during Preakness week?

We began by honoring Dr. Richardson and jockey Edgar Prado at this morning’s Alibi Breakfast, with special achievement awards for their efforts relating to Barbaro.  Additionally at the breakfast a $125,000 check was donated to the laminitis fund in his honor.  Back in December we renamed the Sir Barton Stakes in Barbaro’s honor, and that will be run as the 9th race on Saturday’s card, with the Jacksons in attendance to present the trophy to the winning connections.  Furthermore, we have the Air Force “Wings of Blue” jump team performing after the 7th race.  One of the jumpers will be carrying a flag with the Jacksons’ colors in honor or Barbaro.  The jumpers actually land on the turf course between the 7th and 8th races, which makes for a very interesting event

Elkton, MD:
Bet there aren't too many Georgetown grads that get involved in horse racing. As an older Maryland lifer, I've lived through a lot of changes in Maryland racing and have done my best to support it. However, I've recently found my interest waning, not just because of the racing, but because of the quality of the facilities themselves. Despite living here, I find myself driving up to Delaware more often now just because of the building. Do you have any plans to refurbish or upgrade Pimlico or Laurel? Are slots necessary to accomplish this? Thanks for taking my question.

There is a plan to completely redo both Pimlico and Laurel at some point.  The Pimlico plan would call for a much smaller permanent facility with temporary seating being brought in for Preakness.  This would be similar to a NASCAR event.  The Laurel plan calls for the building to be flipped to the other side of the racetrack with an entrance off of Route 198.  The short answer is, yes slots would be necessary because these projects could cost in excess of $500 million.  It is just not feasible without that revenue source.

Louisville, Ky:
Lou, just wondering if you could please tell us in advance whether the host track plans to "groom" the racetrack on Preakness Day toward speed/closers and inside/outside paths so that a man inclined to place a wager may govern his actions accordingly? Thanks, Lou and I hope it's a great day for the state of Maryland and Thoroughbred racing!! Hi Ho Pimlico!!

You can plan on seeing the same racetrack on Preakness Day as you do throughout the rest of the season.  I believe the track will play even from inside to out and from front to back, so don’t plan on doing anything different than you do the rest of the year.

Columbia, MD:
Good afternoon Mr. Raffetto, As a frequent visitor to both Laurel and Pimlico, my wife and I often wonder why Maryland Racing does not open up its doors by offering free parking and free admission, especially on Saturdays. If my memory is correct, Pimlico celebrates one of its largest crowds on the last day of the meet when there is free admission. If you want people to see your product, let them in. Thank you for addressing our question.

We try to encourage patrons to become Premier Players, thereby reaping benefits such as free admission on days other than Saturdays.  At some point in the future, that point being if and when slots are ever approved, we would offer free admission at all times.  Without getting into all of the details, we find that having a paid admission policy is a benefit for our guests, in that it keeps out some unsavory elements.

Lutherville, MD:
Lou, I think you've done as well as possible in Maryland given the circumstances. Who owns the rights to the Preakness? What's to keep Mr. Stronach from moving it to Santa Anita?

Thank you very much.  We have a great team here at the Maryland Jockey Club and I am very proud of them all.  The Preakness does belong to the MJC and MEC.  There are certain aspects of the law in Maryland as it relates to take-out that would make it unwise to move it to another jurisdiction such as California.  I do not see that happening unless, at some point in the future, that there is no hope for slots.  At that point, all bets are off and anything is possible.

Winston-Salem, NC:
I wondered if rather than retrenching and doing things like cutting back on the Pimlico Special, should Pimlico actually have a large goal in mind to achieve, say, a Breeders' Cup berth as host track? Almost like a city in need of revitalization trying to secure a bid for the Olympics. It could lift everyone up. I know these things cost money but it's something concrete to point for.

I believe that hosting the Breeders’ Cup would be a wonderful thing for Maryland racing and the State of Maryland.  However, before we would ever want to undertake that challenge, I believe that we would need to upgrade the facilities.  The State of New Jersey invested millions of dollars in Monmouth Park in their effort to obtain the Breeders’ Cup for this year.  The same thing would have to be done at either of our facilities.  That funding does not exist at this point, but could if slots are ever approved.

Baltimore, Maryland:
Do you think the Triple Crown races need to be further apart in the number of weeks??

I personally would prefer to run the Preakness three weeks after the Derby.  The game has changed a great deal in recent years from the standpoint of the spacing of races.  I think it would encourage more trainers to run back after the Derby.  The Belmont could follow three to four weeks after the Preakness. 

Durham, North Carolina:
Do you think the Triple Crown races need to be further apart in the number of weeks??

While I think the bonus was a big positive, I don’t think it necessarily encouraged anyone other than the winner to run back.  The also rans never benefited from the bonus. 

Sheboygen, WI:
If and when Pimlico is fully restored, I think one of the first things you do is rebuild the Old Clubhouse. This wonderful and charming structure would be a great core of your Rennaissance. Has there been any discussion of this?

I think that’s a wonderful idea.  There has been no discussion to date regarding that particular concept, but I will pass it on to the appropriate individuals.

Essex Fells, New Jersey:
I see you were a trainer. Can you tell us your winning percentage?

I was a good trainer of horses, but I am much better at training former employees such as you, Jim.

White Plains, NY:
I first met Lou Raffetto in 1975 when he was working in the racing office staff at the old Garden State Racetrack in Cherry Hill, N.J. He left an impression on me as a caring individual and a man who cared about horsemen and the workers who put on the show. Had not seen him for thirty years until I ran into him at last year's Preakness and the first thing that was obvious was he had not changed. Still compassionate and caring about what he does and the people he affects.......truly one of the good guys in racing. Walter "Stretch" Johnson

Thanks for the kind words, Stretch.  Hopefully it won’t be so long between visits in the future.

Harrisburg, Pa:
Churchill Downs implemented mandatory drug screens, to include EPO, for the Derby. What position will Pimlico take on screening for performance enhancing drugs? The patterns of effort shown by horses of successful trainers/veterinarians in Maryland indicate wide-spread use of enhancer medications. As a result, Pimlico has little appeal to bettors like myself because the majority of races become unplayable. This is an old issue, the tests are available, the process is refined, will Pimlico implement?

We leave the testing of horses to the jurisdiction of the Racing Commission.  However what I can say is that the lab that does the testing and the program in place in Maryland is highly regarded by other commissions around the country.

Graham, Texas:
Lou, just wanted to say I'm glad you are in Maryland and hope you can help keep the "Old Hilltop" from becoming part of the past. I worked at Monmouth for years and you did a great job there. Steve Richie

Thank you very much Steve.  I hope I can live up to the expectations.

Harrisburg, Pa:
Mr. Raffeto, What value, or weight, will you give to the players/bettors at Pimlico? Would you be open to having a player representative serve with your team to insure a more marketable product for handicappers? Would you accept someone who is a consensus choice of a panel which includes Andy Beyer (DRF), Len Friedman (Ragozin Sheets), Jerry Brown (Thorograph) as examples? If not, would a selection made by election at the Handicappers Expo be acceptable to you? Thanks, Chuck

I’ve always been willing to listen to ideas and have tried to act on the ones that I felt were beneficial to the racing game.  Please feel free to contact me if you so desire.

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