Laurel boosting purses Thursday

January 31, 1995|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

Brisk business at the betting windows, partly attributable to mild winter weather, is allowing management at Laurel Park to boost purses about 10 percent, starting Thursday.

The move comes about two months earlier than expected. At the beginning of the meet in October 1994, management slashed prize money paid out to horsemen about 8 percent. The action was taken to begin balancing the purse account, which carried about a $2 million overpayment. Such overpayment occurs when the track pays out more purse money to owners and trainers than is generated by the betting.

Management had hoped to make up the deficit by the beginning of the Pimlico meet, which starts April 4. But the Christmas-New Year's holiday and January betting figures have exceeded expectations, and in four months the overpayment has been eradicated.

"Now we are able to put back everything that had been cut," said Lenny Hale, vice president of racing at Laurel/Pimlico.

Coupled with an upswing in business, and the reduction of about $1 million paid out in stakes purses by the elimination of the International Turf Festival, the overnight purse structure should stay healthy and perhaps even be further enhanced during 1995.

"This is what we have been working for, what we have been expecting to see happen," said Richard Hoffberger, president of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "Management said they would increase purses as soon as the overpayment balance was paid up, and this is about as immediate as you can get."

On Thursday, every race, except for bottom-level $4,000 claimers, carries between a $500 and $1,500 increase.

Hale said that when Pimlico starts, the $4,000 claimers will be eliminated. "But we're keeping them through the winter to attract horses from Charles Town and Delaware Park, which are closed," he said.

Monday live cards scratched

Even though overall business has increased, three Mondays of live racing, carded to coincide with popular simulcasts from Gulfstream Park in south Florida, have been a failure except when they mark a holiday, such as Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 16.

Betting yesterday on Laurel's live card reached a 1995 low, with $495,574 being wagered in-state on the nine-race program. Figures from the two previous Mondays averaged only slightly higher at $550,000.

Starting next week, Maryland outlets will be open for "simulcast only" cards on Mondays. Live racing will be conducted for five days from Wednesday through Sunday. Tuesdays will be dark.

"After the weekend, Mondays have just been dead," said a track official.

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