As if Maryland racing didn't have enough problems with slot machines in Delaware, along comes Old Man Winter to aggravate them.
Another snowstorm Friday. Another program canceled.
Each time Laurel Park surrenders a live card to the weather, the track and the state's horsemen lose vital revenue that could be used to fight the onslaught of slots that will send Delaware Park's purse structure soaring, starting next month.
"I think probably this is the toughest winter racing here has had in a long time," said Maryland Jockey Club president Joe De Francis.
The loss of a Friday live card means almost a $200,000 hit for Maryland racing. That total includes 17 percent of the live handle -- usually about $900,000 to $1 million -- and another $30,000 from the money generated from the commingled handle (other tracks taking the Laurel signal).
If Laurel is canceled on a Saturday, the biggest day of the week, the numbers rise about 50 percent. Two Saturday cards have been wiped out this winter.
De Francis said Friday's cancellation was unavoidable because the weather "was the worst kind for our ability to get the track ready.
"Water, which then freezes, and snow on top is an impossible combination to deal with," he said.
Big turnout in Annapolis
De Francis said he was "very encouraged" by the large turnout of racing enthusiasts who went to Annapolis last week for the legislative discussion of the Racing Reform Act.
"That is the kind of involvement the industry is going to have to have to get this bill passed," he said. "That number of people taking time to make their views known is tremendous.
"If that kind of effort continues, I think we have a great chance."
De Francis said the effort to secure slot machines at the tracks and selected off-track sites has been a victim of poor timing.
"The legislature has spent so much time focusing on stadiums, it has made it difficult for this," he said. "But I think our industry is certainly worthy of the same attention because it provides 10 times the employment."
De Francis continues to be worried about increases in the Delaware Park purses. He estimates that track will exceed Maryland's offering by the time its second condition book is available.
New Derby favorite
Cobra King has replaced Unbridled's Song as the Kentucky Derby favorite.
Lightly raced by design, Cobra King won the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull Stakes on Jan. 20 but hasn't competed since, skipping the Hutcheson Stakes and Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park.
Unbridled's Song finished a close second in both those stakes, traversing two turns for the first time in the Fountain of Youth.
"I see no big monsters coming out of the Fountain of Youth," said Mike Puype, Cobra King's trainer. "I like our position. The horses that ran in the Fountain of Youth had a hard race that may have taken a toll on them."
Built For Pleasure scored a monstrous upset in the Fountain of Youth.
Cobra King is the likely favorite now for Saturday's Florida Derby, which traditionally provides the winner or major contenders for the Derby, which is always the run on the first Saturday in May.
Rosecroft part of series
Rosecroft Raceway is one of seven tracks that have signed a document that would create the American Championship Harness Series.
The series seeks to have televised stakes racing on a major North American television outlet for 30 weeks next year.
Barry Weisbord, who succeeded for a time with the American Championship Racing Series for thoroughbreds, is designing the project. The series would encompass three or four major stakes races weekly in an hourlong show.
A test run will be held July 13 when the Meadowlands Pace, the Courageous Lady Pace (Northfield) and the Sheppard Pace (Yonkers) will be broadcast on ESPN2.
Best Pal to California
Best Pal has gone home.
The third-highest thoroughbred earner of all time ($5,668,245) has returned to Golden Eagle Farm in Ramona, Calif., where he was born in 1988.
The gelding won 18 times in 47 starts, including major triumphs in the Oaklawn Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, Cal Cup Classic and Pacific Classic, Strub Stakes and Santa Anita Handicap.
Best Pal was second in the 1991 Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Pimlico Special in 1993 in his only Maryland appearance.
Because of Best Pal's success, John and Betty Mabee were Eclipse Award winners in 1991 as the nation's leading thoroughbred breeders.
Pub Date: 3/10/96