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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Plainridge Lives On

Knowing the way things work in Massachusetts, the fact that Mass Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby, a political animal to the core, went out of his way during the last stage of the vetting process for the single slots license to portray the Leominster/Cordish bid in a positive light, while dismissing the Plainville/Penn National proposal as hard to grade, was very concerning. I believed all along that Plainridge had an edge since so many existing jobs were at stake, but Crosby’s approach to the summation told me the fix was in, and cynicism got the best of me. I lost my faith. The hero who restored it and saved the day for all of us was Commissioner Gayle Cameron, a one time member of the New Jersey State Police and the hearing officer who put the kibosh on Walter Case’s attempt to get his license back. Commissioner Cameron stated, “I value the ability to have racing continue in a full-time capacity.” Penn National had been forthright in stating that racing would end if the license went elsewhere. When she cast her vote Cameron made it clear that racing was the pivotal factor in her decision.

The final vote was 3-2 in favor of Plainville, with Commissioners Bruce Stebbins and Enrique Zuniga joining Cameron. This isn’t the end of it; there is no end to it in this state. Penn National must agree to a number of “administrative conditions” during the next 24 hours, and once that is out of the way the final vote will take place--tomorrow. The Plainridge web site already screams out “Coming Soon! Plainridge Park Casino! And beneath that there is a rendering of what the casino/track complex will look like at night. Since the racing side of things was contingent upon getting the license “Live racing returns in April” is all you get in that area.

Calling the Massachusetts Sire Stakes program modest is too kind, but there is one. The program is now built around resident broodmares. Last year a single trotting stallion—Futile Quest—while no pacing stallions stood in the state. This year the pacing stallion Armenian Warrior has been added to the mix. Forty-four mares, in foal to the likes of Chapter Seven, Credit Winner, RC Royalty and Rock N Roll Heaven, are registered with the program. Those mares are required to reside in the state from December 1, 2013 until foaling time in 2014. This relatively new approach to handing out sire stakes money, in tandem with the percentage of all casino revenue guaranteed to the horse racing industry, as well as the subsidy garnered from the slots money generated at Plainridge, “should” transform the track into a first class operation. Currently Maltese Artist, in reign to Bruce Ranger, owns the track record of 1:49.2 on the pacing side. That was set more than eight years ago. And Ringside Rocket set the trotting mark almost fourteen years ago for Walter Case Jr. Obviously racing at Plainridge needs to meet the modern world. Penn National has plenty of experience running racetracks, not always to favorable reviews, but there’s nowhere to go but up in this case.

As I stated earlier, it’s never really over in this state. Good government types are plentiful and the anti-casino folks have gathered enough signatures to place an appeal question on the ballot in November. Right now the Attorney General, Martha Coakley, who is running for Governor, is mulling over whether or not such an initiative is appropriate. Translation: she’s conducting a poll to see which ruling will net her the most votes. Informing Penn National that the whole thing was an April Fools joke, in November, after they’re up and running with the slots parlor, would be just too ridiculous, but we are talking about the Commonwealth, so stay tuned.

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