NFL gives tracks too much to handle, so De Francis is calling for a huddle

HORSE RACING

December 15, 1991|By MARTY McGEE

Joe De Francis, Laurel/Pimlico president, said he and his staff "will look at the problem" of weak betting handles on Sunday programs at Laurel during the fall and winter -- i.e., when the track goes head-to-head with the NFL and the Washington Redskins.

"The combination of the economy and football has led us to decide to . . . do a thorough analysis of the situation," he said. "We didn't think about doing it for this year, but at some point, we're definitely going to take a hard look at it [for 1992]."

For nine Sunday programs at the current fall meeting, the handle is down 21.5 percent over similar dates. (Average handle on the first nine Sundays of 1990 was $1,755,781; this year, it's $1,378,044.)

Sunday programs still generate more handle than programs would on Mondays or Wednesdays, which are Laurel/Pimlico's normal dark days. And when racing doesn't have to lure customers away from their television sets on a football Sunday, that difference becomes even greater.

It is a given, however, that Sundays have to out-handle weekdays significantly to make them worthwhile. The track pays many of its employees time-and-a-half for Sunday labor. Plus, there is the morale factor to consider -- racing on Sundays means employees are away from their families on both weekend days.

De Francis declined to speculate on how the tracks might change their schedule, if at all. "Our Sundays each year have been more and more impacted by football," he said. "This year has been the worst -- by a wide margin."

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Holiday gift idea for the discriminating racing fan: Reserved seats for the May 16 Preakness are on sale. Tickets are available in the $30 to $58 range, and some seats require purchase as a package with seats for the day before the Preakness.

All ticket requests must be made by Jan. 14. Call (410) 542-9400.

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Laurel's holiday schedule: Open on Dec. 23; dark on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25; and open from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5, except Dec. 30.

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Ever notice how dark it is by the last race at Laurel during the winter months? The last race is usually run at about 4:40 -- and 10 minutes later, it's so dark that running a race would be dangerous, if not impossible.

What's going to happen if, as the last-race field is being loaded into the gate, a horse gets loose on the track and can't be caught -- and taken out of harm's way -- until it's too dark? How about paring about 10 minutes off the daily schedule in case of such a scenario?

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The new bonuses for Maryland Million nominees are eligible to won beginning Jan. 25 with the inaugural running of the Maryland Racing Writers' Handicap at Laurel.

In 1992, a total of 11 races -- other than those on the Maryland Million day program -- will offer a total of $250,000 in premiums to owners, sires and nominators of Maryland Million-eligible horses.

Dinard, the gelding who would have been favored to win the Kentucky Derby if not for an injured suspensory, is scheduled to return to the races Dec. 26.

The seven-furlong Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita Park is the target for trainer Dick Lundy. Dinard's last start was a hard-fought victory over Best Pal in the Santa Anita Derby in early April. He then came up lame at Keeneland Race Course while training for the Derby.

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Horseplayers traveling to Atlantic City, N.J., may be able to wager on horse racing next year, if a simulcasting bill scheduled for action next week eventually is passed by the New Jersey legislature.

The only races available for wagering would be those emanating from New Jersey tracks.

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When Brilliant Trick was entered in Friday's second race at Laurel, I wrote this comment: "Ultimate sucker horse." After all, HTC the gelding had remained a maiden through 29 career starts, with eight seconds and five thirds.

So owner Larry Hansel devised a way to needle me back. He had me show up before the race in the paddock, where a doll had been manipulated so that its foot was in its mouth. It was hanging by its neck on a thin rope, and it was fastened to a piece of cardboard which read: "To Marty, From Brilliant Trick."

I assured Larry the horse would somehow find a way to hang -- racetrack terminology for a horse that makes a big move, then refuses to follow through. I told Larry that if Brilliant Trick happened to win, I would pose with him and the doll in the winner's circle.

Sure enough, Brilliant Trick charged to a five-length victory, breaking his maiden in his 30th start. Dutifully, I reported to the winner's circle.

The doll now is kept in the press box, foot-in-mouth. And it's still hanging, which Brilliant Trick is not.

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