Will the program at Pimlico Race Course start carrying the disclaimer "Pardon Our Glitch"?
For the second straight Sunday, the Baltimore track experienced computer problems that held up race pay-offs for about 15 minutes for the first three races yesterday and forced the track to cancel commingling pools with five out-of-state wagering outlets. A week ago, the computer failed and payoffs could not be calculated on the last four races. Bettors were not paid their winnings until two days later.
Track operator Joe De Francis said the malfunction cost the track "about $100,000 in handle last week, plus the good will of our fans." He estimated about $400,000 in commingling wagers was lost yesterday, of which the track and horsemen would have received approximately $15,000.
The apparent culprit is the pool collator that is designed and marketed by AmTote International, a Hunt Valley company that provides and services wagering equipment for Maryland tracks. The new equipment allows bets from other tracks to be fed into a central pool at Pimlico over high-speed telephone lines.
The problem became evident during yesterday's first race. "There was not enough memory allocated [in the collator] for the pool sources," said Jack Begor, an AmTote technician at Pimlico. "We contacted Scott [Bartholomew, the collator designer], and he re-sized the memory." But by the time Bartholomew was located, Pimlico management had canceled it's commingling with all of its out-of-state outlets, except Las Vegas casinos.
"We didn't want to get in the same situation we were in last week and not be able to pay off our fans," De Francis said. "So we canceled the commingling tracks and operated only our pools at Pimlico and Laurel [which the regular AmTote equipment could handle]. We told the other tracks that they could have the card for free if they operated their own pools. The only one that did that was Delaware Park."
By contract, Pimlico had to carry on its commingling arrangement with the Las Vegas outlets. "We had to manually merge the pools, so that caused the delays in the second and third races," De Francis said.
De Francis said that it has become obvious that AmTote isn't ready to handle the dramatic demand for operating commingling pools. "Bob Bork [general manager at Arlington International Racecourse near Chicago] told me that they have had this problem about a half-dozen times," De Francis said. "So it's not just us. But in all fairness to AmTote, it [commingling] has taken off faster than anyone imagined. There has just been an explosion in the number of tracks that want to commingle."
De Francis said he thinks that the Maryland fans have been particularly patient "while we experience these kind of growing pains. I want to let them know it's greatly appreciated."
Fans also experienced another blunder on yesterday's card. Management canceled the ninth race, a previously planned simulcast of the Ruffian Handicap from Belmont Park, after an error showed up on the track program. An employee in the program department did not realize New York tracks have a different rule concerning stabling couplings. The Scotty Schulhofer-trained entry of Shared Interest and Nannerl was coupled at Belmont Park, but not on the Pimlico program.
"The saddle cloths on the horses would not have matched the program numbers," De Francis said. "We thought it would be too confusing for our fans, so we canceled the simulcast."
NOTES: Two-time Maryland Million winner Timely Warning is expected to arrive at Pimlico tomorrow afternoon. The horse is scheduled to have a final speed workout Thursday morning under jockey Mike Luzzi in preparation for Saturday's race. . . . Kent Desormeaux starts accepting Pimlico mounts on Thursday. . . Little Bold John worked a mile in 1 minute, 41 seconds at the Bowie Training Center yesterday morning. Trainer Jerry Robb said he will run the 9-year-old gelding in the Maryland Million "if he comes out of the work OK." . . . Trainer Barclay Tagg not only won the Damascus Handicap at Pimlico on Saturday with Social Retiree, but he also won the Violet Handicap at the Meadowlands that night with Highland Crystal. . . . The Maryland Racing Writers Association will award a $1,000 scholarship to a worthy backstretch recipient tomorrow night at the organization's Maryland Million crab feast. The party starts at 6:30 p.m. on the first floor of the Pimlico clubhouse. Jim McKay is emcee. Tickets are $25 and are available at the door.