Racing and Timonium They go together: Thanks to the horse races, Md's state fair isn't just another midway.

September 01, 1996

WHAT MAKES the Maryland State Fair different from other fairs in this region? Sure, it is bigger than most of its competitors, but there's something else special about this 10-day gathering: the horse races.

When the ponies compete at Timonium, Maryland's two-track thoroughbred circuit shuts down. In many respects, these races are the state fair's lifeblood. Attendance rivals or exceeds crowds at the bigger Pimlico and Laurel tracks. Thanks to simulcasting of Timonium races to 25 sites across the nation, the state fair reaps a substantial sum from the meet.

That's a dramatic change from pre-simulcasting days, when the races were a money-losing drag. But so far this year, the total handle has more than doubled, the purses awarded to winning horses have skyrocketed and horsemen have happily filled the track's race cards.

Earlier this summer fair officials feared competition from Delaware Park, where slot machine profits have pumped up purses dramatically, would hurt the small Maryland track. Not so. The quality of horse races has not diminished, nor has the size of the crowds.

The state fair's new-found success augurs well for the future. Discussions are heating up about year-round simulcasting from an all-weather, 35,000 square foot "sports palace" inside the grandstand. That would increase state fair receipts. And it could prove a godsend for the operators of Pimlico and Laurel, which would own and run the simulcast facility.

Another revenue source is just what Laurel-Pimlico president Joe De Francis desperately needs. Finding the capital to make a big simulcast investment in Timonium won't be easy, but the returns could prove quite rewarding.

Timonium's success could also trigger discussion on another move to bolster Pimlico -- an extended Timonium meet that would permit Mr. De Francis to reap the benefits of simulcast races at his two tracks without putting up purse money or paying other live-racing overhead during the unprofitable August doldrums.

When Pimlico decided to cut out live racing in the week leading up to the Timonium meet, it saved over $250,000, much of which will be plowed back into higher purses. Fewer August racing days at Pimlico and a longer Timonium session could prove a winning combination.

Pub Date: 9/01/96

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