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ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Jockey Club says it can break even this year, but only if a proposed state loan clears the General Assembly by April 11.
The owner of Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course — home of the Preakness, the second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown — is banking on $1.7 million from the state horsemen's association and $3.6 million loan from Maryland to balance its books this year.
The club lost $20 million last year, although Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas said Friday that a handful of one-time expenses — including the cost of a lawsuit against Baltimore developer David Cordish over one of the state's five slots licenses — cut into the club's profits.
"We took a look at 2010 and — at least based on the first few months of 2011 — that revenue decline has started to level," Chuckas said.
Chuckas also said the cost of the much-debated "Kegasus" advertising campaign for the Preakness is likely less than $400,000.
The club unveiled a logo featuring beer-chugging, nipple-pierced centaur "Kegasus" earlier this week to try and fill the infield with younger party-goers. Concerns about unfettered drinking seemed to peak in 2008 with the so-called "Running of the Urinals," where partiers hurled full beer cans at people as they dashed atop portable toilets.
At least one lawmaker — Delegate Patrick McDonough, R-Baltimore County — has questioned whether the state should provide an operating loan to the club because of its newest advertising campaign.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, who will have a say over whether the state approves the loan to the club, said Thursday he sees nothing wrong with the centaur "party manimal" that is targeted at a younger crowd.
"Well, it's a marketing tool. They're marketing it to college students and others that participate in this type of thing. I don't know if the state can tell them what logo to use, but it's a marketing decision," Miller said.
While horse racing in Maryland has struggled in general, the Jockey Club's fortunes have been worse than other track owners.
When lawmakers in 2007 drew up the map of the five locations approved for slot machines, they included a location near the Baltimore Washington Parkway that appeared dedicated for Laurel race track. But when companies bid for the licenses in 2009, Cordish submitted a surprise proposal for a slots casino adjacent to the nearby Arundel Mills mall, just at the edge of the legislator-drawn map.
The Jockey Club backed a local referendum campaign to keep the Cordish property from being re-zoned to allow for slots and lost that effort during the 2010 election. Cordish sued the Jockey Club in February seeking $600 million in damages for alleged defamation.