Rosecroft is first to feel heat from slots

On Horse Racing

January 07, 1996|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The management of Maryland's thoroughbred industry is justifiably worried about what it considers the ogre next door, slot-machine wagering at the Delaware tracks.

But at least there is time to identify what the fierce competition can do; Delaware Park does not resume live racing until the spring.

The state's standardbred interests have no such luxury.

With slots now going full blast at Dover Downs, the harness-racing facility currently racing only 1 1/2 hours away from Baltimore and Washington, Rosecroft Raceway was the first to feel the heat.

"There has already been a direct effect on us," said Rosecroft general manager Dennis Dowd. "The last few weeks we had live racing [in December], we started to lose a lot of horses to Delaware."

One night, Dowd said Dover had 200 horses while Rosecroft dropped from the normal 125 to 60. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that harness horsemen are anticipating a windfall in Delaware.

"They are going up there for the purses they anticipate will be coming within the next few months and I don't blame them. They have to feed the horses and themselves," Dowd said. "But if this continues, we're going to have a terrible horse shortage."

In the past, the purse offering has averaged $37,000 nightly at Rosecroft, more than three times that of Dover.

Maryland interests have nearly a month to determine a course of action to combat the awesome revenue that slots -- and the increased betting on simulcast racing at Delaware tracks -- can produce.

But Dowd is not optimistic.

"We're seeing now that it's only going to get worse," he said. "If we don't do something, we're going to find ourselves in a position where there may not be horse racing in Maryland and that would be sad."

Maryland Jockey Club president Joe De Francis is concerned that Delaware Park's purses "are going to be astronomical next summer," based on the early revenues produced by the casino-type gambling.

De Francis said that Delaware's purse offerings have traditionally trailed Maryland only slightly and "if they go up even 50 percent, we'll be far behind them.

"By 1997, I should think they'll be able to double their purses. Right now, we're searching for ways to answer that."

The Maryland thoroughbred tracks have not been affected a lot -- yet -- because Delaware Park is not open. Maryland's handle was down about 6 percent in the closing days of December -- and was particularly off at Poor Jimmy's off-track betting site in Cecil County, close to the Maryland-Delaware line -- but De Francis attributed that more to the weather than the slots.

And De Francis' response to what may happen in Maryland? "Right now, we're just searching," he said.

Cigar still smoking

Cigar's presence in the California Classic Crown is likely to reduce to $1.8 million the bonus for sweeping the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic.

The bonus originally was set at $3 million.

According to the Daily Racing Form, the announcement by Cigar's owner, Allen Paulson, to run in the series for older horses has made it impossible for the MGM Grand Casino of Las Vegas to purchase a liability policy that would protect series officials if a horse won all three events.

Each race will carry a purse of $1 million and will be run at 1 1/4 miles on the main track.

Cigar, bred at Country Life Farm in Bel Air, has a 12-race winning streak and is expected to make his 1996 debut in the Donn Handicap on Feb. 10 at Gulfstream Park.

New housing gets funding

Backstretch employees at Laurel Park soon will receive a New Year's present.

Long relegated to substandard housing, those who care for the horses will be moving into 36 new dormitory-style units, thanks to funding and/or loans from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, Anne Arundel County, the Federal Home Loan Bank and the Ryan Family Foundation.

"I'm not sure when they'll be started. We're waiting for some meetings to be scheduled," said Laurel's chief operations officer, John Mooney. "But when they're complete, they'll house more than 100 workers."

All but two of the units will be double-occupancy rooms. They will be located adjacent to the stabling area at Laurel on property owned by track management.

"This is something that the Ryan Foundation has been after for quite some time," said Mooney.

DHCD will provide a $1 million loan, Anne Arundel County is supplying $300,000, the Federal Home Loan Bank $450,000 and the foundation $100,000.

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