Betting numbers up on late-year surge

Marylanders wager more

out-of-state money placed on races here rises


Horse Racing

January 01, 2002|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

At the close of a difficult year for Maryland racing comes some good news.

Bolstered by a sharp increase in betting in November and December, wagering in-state on thoroughbred racing rose 2.4 percent for the year, and wagering out-of-state on races at Pimlico and Laurel Park rose 6.5 percent.

"With all the doom and gloom floating around out there, some things are actually working pretty well," said Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club.

Those things are, in two words, field sizes. Since mid-November, when racing at Laurel resumed five days per week, the number of horses per race increased 9.2 percent from the same period last year (an average of 8.7 horses in 2001 compared to 7.9 horses in 2000).

As a result, betting on Laurel races increased 14 percent - despite an 8.6 percent drop in races run. The average betting per race soared 24.8 percent.

De Francis credited Lou Raffetto Jr., MJC's chief operating officer, and Georganne Hale, the racing secretary, with making the most of a racing program beset in 2001 by the loss of $6 million in state money for purses. Carding fewer races, coordinating them better and attracting out-of-state trainers for the winter are factors that have bolstered field sizes.

"The seeds of their labor have really taken root this fall," De Francis said.

The betting figures released yesterday also confirmed a trend reflected at tracks around the country. Bettors increasingly prefer to bet on races that are run out of state. Betting in-state on Pimlico and Laurel races continued to fall, decreasing 13 percent from 2000.

That drop would have been even greater if not for the late-season surge in wagering. The surge prompted De Francis to look into 2002 with hope.

But keeping wagering at healthy levels will be difficult without an additional infusion for purses, such as another grant from the state, Raffetto said.

"This is a serious long-term problem," Raffetto said.

Milestone victory

If the betting news was good, the news about the winner of the $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Championship Stakes was better. The winner, Magic Weisner, was bred and is owned and trained by Nancy Alberts.

In more than 30 years of training, Alberts, 56, had never won a race so rich. She had never had a year so successful. This was her seventh victory, all with horses she had bred.

In the winner's circle, she appeared stunned. Even after Magic Weisner had posed for photos and left for the barn, Alberts said: "I'm just so excited I don't even know that he won."

Alberts worked for years for esteemed trainer J.P. Simpson. When Simpson had a horse that couldn't run, he'd offer it to Alberts. In 1991, she bought a crooked-legged 2-year-old filly named Jazema for $1.

Alberts nursed her and loved her and eventually raced her. Jazema raced 68 times, winning 14 and placing in 11. Then Albert bred her to Ameri Valay two years in a row. Her second foal was Magic Weisner.

In his first stakes test, the gelding at odds of 12-1 stormed from last to win by a half length. For his breeder, owner and trainer, Magic Weisner has won three of six races and earned $97,110.

Et cetera

Ramon Dominguez finished the year as the winningest jockey in the country - and the world. He won two more at Laurel for a total of 431.

"I am overwhelmed," he said. "Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected to be the leading rider in the country."

Of the 10 winningest jockeys, five ride in Maryland: Dominguez No. 1, Travis Dunkelberger No. 3 (395), apprentice Jeremy Rose No. 4 (311), Mario Pino No. 8 (297) and Mark Johnston No. 9 (283).

Scott Lake-trained horses won no races in the afternoon, but two were entered last night at Mountaineer Park. Before those races, Lake had won 407 and easily clinched the title of nation's winningest trainer for the second year in a row.

Dale Capuano led trainers with 168 wins in Maryland. Dominguez led jockeys with 297. Dunkelberger led jockeys in local win percentage (23.6), and John Scanlan led trainers (33.3 percent). Scanlan edged Tony Dutrow (32.9 percent) when the Scanlan-trained The Deputy Is Home cruised to victory in the seventh race.

The promising 2-year-old filly Icy Treat was euthanized after shattering her right front knee in the fourth race. She was trained by John Salzman and owned by Four Horsemen's Ranch. Icy Treat became the third horse euthanized after breaking a leg during the past seven racing days at Laurel.

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