Horsemen who looked out over the tracks at Laurel, Pimlico and Bowie race courses yesterday saw essentially what they saw on their driveways at home -- a sheet of ice.
As a result, Laurel management suspended live racing until Saturday. No entries were taken for tomorrow and Friday.
If course superintendant John Passero and his crews do get the tracks up and running by this weekend, it still means that a week of live racing has been lost. Laurel did not run last weekend because of frigid temperatures or on Monday, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and yesterday because of snow and ice.
Horsemen have lost roughly $750,000 in purses. But there has been at least one consolation -- the simulcasting of out-of-state races from warm-weather tracks. Management and horsemen split the proceeds 50-50 from such telecasts. It is helping both cut their losses.
Over the weekend $2 million was bet on races televised from Florida, California and Louisiana. The cut for Maryland management and horsemen amounted to about $125,000 each. The weather was so bad yesterday and Monday that simulcasting wasn't feasible.
There is no simulcasting today because only two tracks -- Santa Anita Park and Fair Grounds Race Course -- are open. It is a dark day for Gulfstream Park, Maryland's most popular out-of-state signal.
But Laurel plans to offer simulcasts from four thoroughbred tracks (Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, Santa Anita and Bay Meadows) tomorrow and Friday at all seven of its wagering outlets.
Some horseman, such as Ferris Allen III, vice president of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, don't want these "simulcast-only" cards to set a precedent.
The agreement between management and horsemen says that simulcasting only can be offered when there is live racing, except on Wednesdays.
But Allen and MTHA president Richard Hoffberger both agree that the current weather is so unique that it is clear management isn't trying to shortchange live racing with the simulcasts.
"Representatives of our board met with management last week and at that time they [management] agreed to make up the canceled cards with extra days of live racing as soon as the weather breaks," Hoffberger said. "It's also obvious we haven't had a freeze like this for the last 10 years. I can't remember the last time we lost all three tracks [for racing and training]."
Passero said he hopes "the horsemen understand. We were OK until about 8 p.m. [Monday night]. The temperature rose to 32 degrees and it started to rain. That rain sunk down into the tracks [which were glazed over] and got the tracks wet. Then when temperatures dropped, the tracks froze. When I got out on them this [yesterday] morning, I was churning up chunks of mud and ice, so I just had to leave them. All three tracks are about the same [condition]."
Passero said he will try to get the ice off the surfaces today. "Then I have to figure out a way to loosen up the dirt while temperatures are still below freezing," he said. "I've never seen anything like this."
Ted Snell, president of Rosecroft/Delmarva harness tracks, said live racing has been canceled tonight at Rosecroft.
"But we might be able to race tomorrow night," he said. "We are in a little different situation than the thoroughbreds. We take the ice off the top [of the track surface] down to the stone dust base. Then we just put on more stone dust."
NOTES: Laurel/Pimlico operator Joe De Francis said he and Hollywood Park management exchanged documents yesterday and are close to coming up with a final draft of an agreement which would sell majority control of Laurel/Pimlico to the Inglewood, Calif., track. He neither would confirm nor deny that he is continuing discussions with other possible investors in case the deal does not materialize. . . . Laurel/Pimlico vice president of racing Lenny Hale said the Northern Wolf Stakes, called off last weekend, has been rescheduled for Saturday and that the Native Dancer Handicap, called off Monday, is reset for Sunday.