In the greatest of all non-Biblical Christmas tales, Ebeneezer Scrooge’s diamond-hard heart is melted by troubling visions of his past and, grimly, his lonely future. In a word, his is a story of redemption.
Scrooge, however, isn’t the first character in the story brought back from the brink.
Earlier, the corrupt Mr. Jorking, one of the directors of the Amalgamated Mercantile Society, faces possible prosecution because he is, as another director observes, “not only a bankrupt but an embezzler of the company’s funds.” Scrooge and his business partner, Jacob Marley, propose a deal which saves Jorking’s hide while enabling Scrooge and Marley to gain control of the company.
The flip, cynical, and self-aware Jorking exclaims, “Reprieved! Curfew shall not ring tonight.”
This difference between redemption and reprieve is the difference between a new lease on life and a little more time. One is epiphantic, the other, merely a relief.
What Maryland racing received yesterday (read it here) was, in the form of an intervention by the Governor’s office, a reprieve. At Tuesday’s acrimonious meeting, Commissioner John McDaniel exasperatedly told representatives of Penn National, part owners of the tracks, that they had “antagonized everyone in the state” with their “arrogant ways.” On Wednesday, those same track owners dropped several poison pill proposals and agreed to a 146-day racing schedule in return for $1.7 million from the horsemen and a loan, against slots revenues, from the state.
Curfew, indeed, shall not ring tonight.
Make no mistake, however. No one in Maryland is, as Scrooge later was, “giddy as a drunken man.” That’s because real challenges remain. The relationship between the horsemen and the combined Magna-Penn National entity that owns the tracks seemingly puts the “fun” in dysfunctional. While the financial situation of the tracks is nowhere near as dire as they like to portray it — they were profitable through 2007 — they nevertheless have been taking on water the last couple of years. And both horsemen’s reps and members of the Commission pointedly called for new ownership of the racetracks at Tuesday’s meeting — calls that met with loud approval from the 400 or so in attendance.
This morning at 4:00 a.m. or so, hundreds of backstretch workers emerged from their dorms to do what they do: pamper the horses who are the stars of the show. On New Year’s Day, racing will go on as usual. For another year, both workers and horses have jobs.
Maryland racing gained a reprieve. Redemption, however, remains distant and elusive.
Still, for several hundred people who would otherwise be out of work, reprieve means a merry Christmas and provides that most valuable of all racing currencies: hope. And here’s a hope that a year from now, reprieve will have become redemption, and some sorf of equine world Tiny Tim will observe, “God bless us — every one.”