Bet figures for '99 show a sharp rise

Out-of-state wagering key

track officials ebullient

January 01, 2000|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Although no fireworks exploded yesterday at Laurel Park, the year in racing for Maryland thoroughbreds ended with bang-up betting figures for 1999 and hope for an even more rewarding 2000.

Wagering from all sources in 1999 increased 8.1 percent compared to 1998 ($839.5 million compared to $776.5 million). That increase was due primarily to a whopping 18.1 percent rise in betting on Pimlico and Laurel Park races by out-of-state gamblers ($374.8 million in 1999 compared to $316.8 million in 1998).

"That's phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal," Jim Mango, Maryland Jockey Club chief operations officer, said of the out-of-state increase. "I believe our signal -- our graphics, our track announcer, the timing of our races -- is absolutely the best signal in the country. The numbers speak for themselves."

Betting in Maryland increased 1.1 percent ($464.8 million in 1999 compared to $459.7 million in 1998), despite a 3.6 percent decrease in betting on local races ($132.3 million in 1999 compared to $137.3 million in 1998.) That decrease reflects a national trend in the continued expansion of simulcast wagering.

Attendance at Laurel Park, Pimlico and Rosecroft Raceway for day thoroughbred racing decreased 1.7 percent in 1999 compared to 1998 (1.94 million compared to 1.97 million). That reflects the growing popularity of off-track wagering, including home betting via the television and computer.

"With so much competition eating away at us on our borders," Mango said, referring to slot machines and increasing purses at tracks in Delaware and West Virginia, "it's just short of a miracle that we've been able to hold our own. I think we're on the right track, and I think we'll stay on the right track. I look for a very, very positive year in 2000."

Mango said the renovations at Laurel Park bolstered his optimism. Today, four upgraded areas opened in the clubhouse: Two simulcast theaters, a private room for big bettors and Tycoons, a cigar and brandy bar with a dazzling display of TVs, leather couches, swanky bar and rich color scheme of dark wood and gold fixtures.

Marty Azola, Maryland Jockey Club vice president of facilities, said Tycoons was just one of 38 renovation projects under way at Laurel Park. He said at Pimlico, which opens in March, 10 are under way, including two new barns on the backstretch, landscaping and new brick and wrought-iron fencing.

The new stakes barn at Pimlico, Azola said, won't be finished until the 2001 Preakness.

Yesterday's feature: William Lageman's Thunder Flash let the pacesetters get tired, then motored by on the outside to post a 6 1/2 length victory in the 10th running of the $75,000 Broad Brush Stakes yesterday at Laurel Park.

Jockey Ramon Dominguez guided the 3-year-old son of Cure the Blues under the finish line in 1: 45 4/5 over a fast main track. Talk's Cheap, the post time favorite, after battling all the way for the lead, dug back in and held the place. Dancin Rahy finished third.

Thunder Flash paid $8.80. He topped an $18 1-4 exacta and a $51.60 1-4-6 trifecta.

Thunder Flash has won seven times in 12 starts and is a winner of four added-money events.

Said trainer Tim Ritchey, "This is a real usable type of horse. He can go long or can go seven-eighths."

Prado: Riding at Calder Race Course in southern Florida, Edgar Prado on Thursday won his 400th race of 1999. It was the third year in a row that Prado, the former Maryland jockey, won 400 races. And for the third consecutive year, he led North American jockeys in wins.

Prado won 536 races in 1997 and 470 in 1998, riding primarily in Maryland.

Only two other jockeys, Russell Baze and Chris McCarron, have won 400 races three years in a row.

Yesterday, Prado won twice more at Calder, concluding 1999 with 402 victories. He will ride at Gulfstream Park when it opens Monday.

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