AUGUSTA, Maine — After being postponed a week due to last week’s snow and ice storm and narrowly missing Sunday’s blizzard, the Maine State Harness Racing Commission’s meeting to confirm Bangor Raceway’s racing license and 2009 race dates proceeded at a record pace.
The license was approved, as were all 61 race dates for the 126th season of racing at Bangor Historic Track.
Also, the commission received assurances from Bangor city officials and Bass Park/Bangor Auditorium director Mike Dyer that the city would refrain from, reschedule or relocate events which could negatively affect the recently refurbished and rebuilt track surface in the future.
“There have been meetings between management and city officials that Bangor is going to redirect their nonharness traffic inside the race track as we requested,” said MSHRC chairman George McHale. “There will not be events on the race track that will damage it, such as demolition derbies and tractor pulls they’ve had during fair weeks in the past.”
Bangor Raceway director of operations Corey Smith said certain events, like snowmobile racing and jumping, which don’t affect the track surface, can still be held on it. Demolition derbies can leave behind everything from motor oil to glass, metal and plastic pieces which can be buried and then resurface at a later time.
“From what I understand, Mike Dyer’s going to look for alternative programs for those days, whether it be adding a date for snowmobile or bike jumping,” said Corey Smith, Bangor Raceway. “It’s more alternative programs more than alternative locations. What those are, I can’t really speak to, but they won’t be on the track if they can potentially harm it.”
MSHRC executive director Henry Jackson said the commission has put together an oversight process to make sure the track remains safe for harness racing.
“Ralph Canney [the state racing steward] and I will work together to evaluate it, and if there are any problems, we’ll make a recommendation to have an emergency commission meeting,” Jackson said. “We’ll also bring it to the attention of [track operator] Penn National Gaming and the City of Bangor. “We just want to make sure we can race there safely without any more conditions that hold up racing.”
Earlier this year while repairs were being made to the track, track officials unearthed an old manure dumping pit and drainage pipe that was contributing to soggy conditions that forced the interruption and postponement of 14 race days.
“It can become a safety issue to horses on the track,” Jackson said. “We’ve tried to work with the city in the past, but it did become more of an issue with the condition the track was in this past year.”
The approval of Bangor’s racing season means the track will have a net increase of seven race dates over last year’s schedule.
“I’m excited about the longer season,” Smith said. “We have the new paddock ready and the track’s in great shape so it’s like opening a new facility.”
The monthlong delay in renewing Bangor Raceway’s license was due to an approval process the MSHRC had to do regarding two new Penn governing board members after Fortress Investment Group LLC and Centerbridge Partners LP purchased Penn National Gaming Inc. in June.
“We just had to get some information, which we got, for a couple new board members, and we’re content with that,” McHale said.
Jackson said he’s pleased the commission took the necessary time to fully evaluate the ownership group.
“One board member was on board during the earlier investigation and another was appointed after our last meeting, and there are no issues whatsoever,” Jackson said. “This is a protocol we will adhere to for future licensing of all tracks.”