Every time I get a little bit exasperated with racing and breeding here in good old Virginia, I simply glance north to Maryland.

Last week’s news of the firing of popular track executive Lou Raffetto made we wonder if, in fact, Magna is suicidal and Maryland is simply doomed?

In a press release issues last week, the race track conglomerate that has done little lately except for hemorrhage money and alienate people, said Raffetto would leave immediately to “pursue other interest.” For some odd reason, nobody was buying the company line.

The firestorm was swift and hot: “The press release is a total fabrication,” Maryland Racing Commission chairman John Franzone said. “Magna basically told him to put his stuff in a cardboard box and head to the door.”

“This decision is unequivocally a disaster,” Franzone said. “I was on the phone today with [Magna chairman Frank] Stronach, pleading with him not to do this … but he said, ‘No. Got to change.’ In my mind, they lose all credibility. It’s now below zero, and it almost borders on malfeasance.”

Hardly what one might call a mild rebuke?

From the never understated and often combative Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, Raffetto received the closest thing to an endorsement he was likely to get. Wayne Wright, executive director, said: “Lou Raffetto deserved a better fate. “He was actually dedicated to racing. I don’t know if Magna has anyone in their employ as dedicated as him.”

“He’s been fired,” Alan Foreman, MTHA attorney, said. “Usually, that means you’ve done something wrong, but there is nothing to indicate that here. There’s nothing but disgust over this move. Lou was in charge of the one asset Magna had performing well in the country.”
There’s a theme here. Everybody seems to agree, and if you know Maryland racing, you know that is rarely the case.

Enter Chris Dragone.

Dragone may be a nice guy, and a good executive, but Maryland is Maryland.

I knew Rafetto. I worked with him briefly. He was extremely knowledgeable, but more importantly, he was a racetrack guy. Not a gaming guy, but a guy who completely understands all the stakeholder’s views. He knows racing both frontside and backside.

On the other hand, Magna seems to prefer executives who are experts in the gaming aspect of the business, and not the racing component.

That’s the wrong fit for Maryland. The Maryland horsemen are as old school as they come, and if Magna plans to solve the problems facing the industry, they will need the horsemen’s support and compromise on tough issues like cutting live racing days. Raffetto had their trust, and was making problems resolving major issues.

With slots on the horizon, Magna’s timing could not have been any worse, but bad timing seems to be the only type of timing they have.

Lou Raffetto was perfect for Maryland. He knew the game. He could be tough when needed, and he was, by all accounts, always fair and opened minded. Maryland horsemen respected him, and that’s saying something.

Dragone has big shoes to fill while standing on a damn slippery slope.

Good luck. — G. Petty