Power failure turns off Laurel bettors

September 29, 1990|By Dale Austin | Dale Austin,Sun Staff Correspondent

LAUREL -- A power outage at 2:28 p.m. yesterday, just before the fourth race at Laurel Race Course, caused management to vacillate, then cancel the final seven scheduled races when it was apparent that the day was hopelessly lost.

Track customers waited in semidarkness while the horsedawdled, first near the starting gate and finally in the paddock. When the cancellation was made official at 4:06 p.m., some customers grumbled at the delay and the failure to get things started, while others continued to study their Daily Racing Forms.

"Horseplayers are a different breed," said William Furey, formechairman of the Maryland Racing Commission, as he watched them file out, receiving passes for future trips to the track.

"People that would fall out of a wrecked train, bleeding, and fighoff medical help just to get to the betting windows like they did once back in the 1960s at Bowie aren't concerned about a little thing like a power outage," he said. "I think most of this crowd would have waited longer if they thought there was a chance to bet. Frankly, I would have waited, too."

Laurel president Joe De Francis said that a burned-ou %o underground cable near the track had caused the problem, but that he expected the scheduled 12-race program today to be run without mishap. The problem was near the main barn area entrance between Barns Nos. 3 and 4.

"You can smell burned out wiring there," said one groom.

Not all of the electricity was off yesterday, and that led tconcern by some customers at Laurel and at the Pimlico Race Course intertrack facility. They couldn't understand why the races couldn't be run if it was obvious that some electricity was available.

"Apparently there are three phases of current that come intLaurel," De Francis said, "and all three weren't cut off. Some lights worked. Some television sets worked and some of the mutuel machines worked."

But the Tote, the name for the big computer system operated bthe American Totalisator Co., didn't. It issues tickets and counts the bets and was not functioning properly. Tote's malfunctioning was ultimately the reason for shutting down the track.

The starting gate opens by way of direct current from batteriesand track officials could make contact around the plant with walkie-talkies. But there was no incentive to race without betting.

A field of 2-year-old maiden fillies was about to be loaded into thgate when the brownout hit.

Chief steward Clinton Pitts Jr., noted quickly that because of thmakeup of the field, usually nervous and flightly, "Perhaps the fourth race could be canceled, and then we could take it from there if things get fixed and we can race again."

The Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. sent in investigators, anthey hoped to find an immediate solution. Meanwhile the fillies were returned to the paddock and unsaddled. Some fillies were unperturbed, but others began sweating. Grooms used water hoses to cool several off, but the fillies began to wilt.

Some customers began to leave even before the announcemenof cancellation. The public address system worked in most areas, and announcer Milo Perrins finally told the crowd that BG&E workers would need "a couple of hours to fix the problem."

Bettors with tickets on the fourth race were told they coulobtain refunds.

Said one man as he walked outside, receiving a pass for another day of racing and aware that his rain check in the program was good for another: "I don't think I'll take the money now. There's too much incentive to return."

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