Bettors eat up full-card feast Fans, De Francis pleased with debut

April 30, 1993|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

For the first time in Maryland racing history yesterday, bettors could wager on horses ridden by Hall of Fame jockeys Pat Day and Laffit Pincay and potential Hall of Famers Julie Krone and Kent Desormeaux while they were racing at their home tracks.

Thorough-Action, the fast-paced feast of full-card simulcasting from out-of-state tracks, provided the opportunity.

From all indications, it will be an unqualified success -- for track management and fans. The first day of betting on action from as many as four tracks at once went well.

The fans' major objection was the need for up to three programs to digest the prospects in 38 races -- from Pimlico, Churchill Downs, Hollywood Park and harness racing from Freehold Raceway.

Pimlico president Joe De Francis said he is "very pleased, almost thrilled" with the operation of the mass simulcasting. "There seemed to be a minimum amount of confusion."

Betting windows were well marked with signs indicating that they would take wagers on the Maryland card only or those at any track. Television screens above the windows coincided with the odds or the running of the race at the track involving that particular wager.

"Our main objective was to make all the signals convenient, yet make it simple," De Francis said. "People could stand in any section of the plant and see the signals from anywhere."

By the time the live card concluded, fans had bet more than $350,000 on out-of-state action with Hollywood Park still running.

"This has had a significant impact," De Francis said at that point. "From a betting standpoint, the handle is up 10 percent so far."

Without the action from elsewhere, the comparative figures looked mildly impressive. With co-mmingling and Rosecroft inter-track betting factored in, the total wagered on the Maryland races was $1,230,298.

That went against a handle of $1,153,666 on the corresponding date last year without Rosecroft and commingling.

De Francis said fans needed only two programs for the thoroughbred races and that the track "will be giving away the multi-signal program" today, tomorrow and Sunday.

When Belmont Park is added next week, its past performances will be included with Churchill Downs and Hollywood Park. "We want to keep our Maryland card a little separate," he said. "We have to protect our live races."

Eventually, the track will consider going to one program.

* Don't expect a rash of off-track betting parlors to open just yet.

De Francis said yesterday that track officials have all they can handle at the moment with the Preakness in two weeks and full-card simulcasting under way at Pimlico and Laurel.

"Once the Preakness is over, we'll move forward as quickly as we can in finding additional sites," he said. "Right now, there is an enormous amount of work to finish."

De Francis will send corporate relations director Tom Lattanzi to The Cracked Claw, site of the first OTB operation, today, to assist in and to monitor the opening.

"We'll try to help, do anything we can," he said. "And we want to get feedback because Saturday is one of the most important days in racing."

The president of the Maryland tracks said Urbana area residents who opposed the opening of the first facility "just don't understand OTB."

"There is a high school opening two miles away two years from now. That was one of the objections. Another was that the site would bring gun battles. Well, there is a school on Northern Parkway next to Pimlico and there have never been any gun battles there because of betting."

* Lil E. Tee, last year's Kentucky Derby winner, has been top-weighted with 122 pounds for the $600,000 Pimlico Special to be run on Preakness Day.

The defending champion and 1991 Kentucky Derby winner, Strike The Gold, received an impost of 118 pounds from track handicapper Larry Abbundi.

Completing the Special weights are Devil His Due, 120; Jovial, 119; Brief Truce, 115; Missionary Ridge, 115; Pistols And Roses, 114; Ibex, 112; Timely Warning, 112; Baron de Vaux, 111; Michelle Can Pass, 111; Valley Crossing, 111; Conte di Savoya, 110; Waki Warrior, 110; and Snappy Landing, 109.

This marks the first year the Pimlico Special will be run on the same card as the Preakness.

* Rosecroft has benefited the most from the first phase of inter-track wagering with the thoroughbred tracks.

The total handle at Rosecroft improved by $500,000 for a four-day period last weekend, meaning the Maryland horsemen's purse account also profited.

"We're glad that Maryland harness fans, especially in the Baltimore area, are appreciating the added opportunities to enjoy our great racing," said Rosecroft president Ted Snell.

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