FAIR HILL, Md.--It's an appalling state of affairs and an insult to the pocketbooks of Maryland residents, but four years after ground was first broken for what was to be a new and improved turf track for racing and steeplechasing at Fair Hill, that track is still deemed unsafe even for horses to train on it.
It was announced in late February that the Fair Hill Races spring meet over Memorial Day has been cancelled.
The horse had an article about the controversy that was already swirling about the turf track two years ago, in August of 2021, because it wasn't ready for use then.
Now, two years later, it is still not ready for use.
Sam Ray, the Director of Strategic Partnerships, Maryland State Department of Natural Resources, was quoted in that article as blaming the delay on Covid and the fact that Covid caused businesses to close down.
That excuse is no longer valid.
"Everybody thinks they know something, but I'm the only person doing this," said Ray."If they didn't talk to me, they don't have the correct information."
There are those who say that it is just that attitude that is part of the problem, and that this is just another case of government failing where private business succeeds.
SINCE THAT article, Ray has refused to talk to reporters at The Horse, saying he was misquoted.
The Horse has offered Ray the opportunity to refute quotations in that article, but he refuses to answer calls or emails from The Horse.
The facts are, however, are that with Ray in charge of the turf track, it has been seriously mismanaged and is still not ready even for horses to gallop on it four years after construction began.
Maybe it's time to put someone in charge of the turf track who is capable of fixing it.
As Ray will not talk to The Horse, it's difficult to find out what the problems are now, but apparently one problem is with a pipe under the course.
Fair Hill Foundation President Charles C.Fenwick, Jr., has been unstinting in is and the Foundation's efforts to raise money for the project and to see it through to completion.
The Foundation plans to continue advocating for use of the turf course for training, and ultimately flat and steeplechase racing, as soon as possible.
“We are disappointed that the progress we made during Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration toward bringing racing back to Fair Hill has stalled with the change in administration, but we understand the need for Gov. Wes Moore’s office to review the formal land-use agreement and other issues such as safety and maintenance related to this project,” said Fenwick. “We are confident the new leadership at the Department of Natural Resources will work with us to reinstate turf and steeplechase races to this historic venue soon.”
Two five-star three-day events have been held att he venue, and that included using the rings inside the turf course.
Last year, construction on those infield rings caused further cancellation of training on or racing on the turf track.
To test the course, it had been hoped to open the track by mid-Ferbuary to training by racehorses at the Fair Hill Training Center.
In February, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources officials informed the Foundation that they were not ready to discuss use of the course for training or racing because of concerns around safety and maintenance.
“This disappointing news makes the prospects for racing this year virtually impossible, and most likely the same is true for any training on the turf course,” Fenwick said. “We must persevere, however, and cannot give up. We are the primary advocate for that racing surface, and therefore it is our responsibility to continue to work to bring back racing and training. We are grateful to our donors and feel the frustration of racing enthusiasts with
the lack of progress.”
In January, Gov. Moore appointed Josh Kurtz to replace Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio as the Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources. A Maryland native, he has been the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Maryland Executive Director for the last two years.
“Since 1934, the citizens of Maryland and more importantly the citizens of Cecil Countyhave supported Fair Hill activities and principally racing,” Fenwick said. “We feel sure that Secretary Kurtz and Governor Moore will recognize the environmental value of the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area and the importance of the 11 acres making up the historic turf course, as well as the economic development potential of this project forthe entire State of Maryland. Since the new course was completed, the State has invested inmaintaining the course, for which we are grateful, and we hope to be able to use the course again soon.”