Laurel Park concluded a highly successful summer meeting yesterday, and Maryland's horse racing focus shifts to Timonium Race Track for the next 10 days.
Attendance figures reflected a decrease for the combined Pimlico at Laurel and Laurel summer meetings, and Jim Mango, chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, attributed that to the long, hot summer.
"Weather conditions were the big factor," said Mango after attendance dropped 2 percent to 351,910 for 48 live racing days and 12 simulcast-only offerings. "A lot of elderly people just couldn't take the severe heat."
But heavy-duty bettors in both Maryland and at its companion simulcasting tracks across the country were not deterred.
The numbers indicate that the popularity of the Maryland signal continues to grow. For the summer sessions, total Maryland handles climbed 2.6 percent and the total bet out of state on local racing increased 9 percent.
"We've held our own in a highly competitive situation," said Mango. "We're pleased with the fact that the handle for the whole year is up 2.4 percent."
In the closing-day feature, Inside Affair, the 4-to-5 choice, beat her only three rivals over a mile in the $38,800 Searching Stakes. With the race moved off the turf, eight of the original 12 entered were scratched.
With Edgar Prado riding at Saratoga, Mario Pino won the jockey title with 59 victories, seven more than Mark Johnston. Hamilton Smith edged Ferris Allen, 20-19, for the trainer championship.
Live racing does not return to Laurel until Oct. 13 after a five-week break for the session at Colonial Downs, Va. Maryland Million Day, which offers $1 million in purses for 11 races, is the next Saturday.
Timonium begins racing for the 118th time with the $40,000 Bobby Hale Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs as the opening-day feature.
Simulcasting has been the salvation of the York Road oval, which was in danger of closing in the mid-'90s before beginning to offer wagering on races from assorted other tracks. It will carry three out-of-town tracks daily, including the attractive Saratoga meeting.
"We just about break even or lose just a little now," said Timonium general manager Howard "Max" Mosner. "Simulcasting has made the difference."
Betting on out-of-state racing was up 11 percent last year while in-state totals took a 2 percent drop.
Altogether, five stakes are scheduled, including two $50,000 races exclusively for Maryland breds, and daily purses will average more than $150,000, roughly the same as Laurel Park and Pimlico.
Timonium used to be a meet for shippers from Charles Town, Penn National and Philadelphia Park seeking better spots or higher purses. It now attracts almost all the Maryland horses because of the upgraded purses.
Last year's jockey leader, Travis Dunkelberger, is on the shelf with injuries sustained in a fall at Laurel, but many of Maryland's journeyman riders will participate, including top guns Pino and Johnston in the stakes.