Despite feuds, $4.5M for purses likely

Horse Racing

March 24, 2002|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Purses at Maryland's harness and thoroughbred tracks likely will receive an infusion of about $4.5 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1 as the result of a recent flurry of activity in the General Assembly.

The money apparently will be forthcoming despite the industry's failure to unite behind a comprehensive bill that would have resolved conflicts between the harness and thoroughbred sides.

Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat who chairs the Finance Committee, took the initial step toward securing the money for racing. The Senate approved the initiative last week, and the House is expected to approve it this week.

The money would come from the increased takeout that originally was intended to finance the sale of bonds for track improvements. That plan by the Maryland Jockey Club never materialized.

Efforts to eliminate the bond fund and restore takeout to its previous levels fell by the wayside when industry leaders could not agree on a multifaceted bill for the current session.

"We should have reduced the takeout and gotten rid of the bond fund," said John Franzone, a member of the Maryland Racing Commission. "But it's the same story: everybody couldn't get together on all the aspects of a global bill."

Franzone said it should be an industry priority to reduce the takeout in next year's session.

The law that raised the takeout stipulates that the first 1.5 percent of the takeout goes into the bond fund. So without eliminating the bond fund, it would be impractical to lower the takeout to its previous level, said Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club.

By June 30, 2003, the end of the upcoming fiscal year, about $4.5 million is expected to accumulate in the bond fund. That is the money that would go to purses and breeding funds (70 percent to thoroughbred, 30 percent to harness), beginning July 1 this year.

"No customer likes to pay higher prices," De Francis said. "And this is the customers' money. But in light of the budget crisis in the state, we're fortunate that this money will remain in the industry."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening already was snared $3.7 million from the bond fund and transferred it into the general fund.

"We're going to need the money," Franzone said. "I'm nervous about Delaware starting. We're already having trouble filling races, and Delaware doesn't open for a month."

Delaware Park opens April 27.

Lou Raffeto Jr., chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, said the infusion for purses would allow the reinstatement of some summer and fall stakes and "loosen our belt buckle a little bit" on overnights.

Around the tracks

Pimlico and Laurel Park opened at 9:30 a.m. yesterday and offered free admission, free donuts and coffee, and a free program for the races in Dubai.

A total of 1,727 people passed through the two tracks' turnstiles for the morning races (nighttime races in Dubai.)

They bet $148,222 at the two tracks, Rosecroft Raceway and the Maryland Jockey Club-Rosecroft off-track-betting parlors. Because of lively betting on the Dubai Golden Shaheen, featuring Laurel-based Xtra Heat, the in-state handle on the four Dubai races was $148,222, more than twice the previous two years combined ($71,318 in 2000, 61,909 in 2001).

Arlington Park served as the hub for North American betting on the races. (There was no betting in Dubai.) Arlington reported a handle of $2.7 million, a 36.7 percent increase over a year ago. More than $1.5 million (35.9 percent increase) of that was bet on the Dubai World Cup.

The Tony Dutrow-trained Saratoga Blues battled for the early lead, but then faded to last in the Spiral Stakes yesterday at Turfway Park. Dutrow said last week that he doesn't expect to receive Burning Roma back from Bill Mott, who trained the colt over the winter.

Jeremy Rose rode four winners yesterday at Laurel Park, wresting the jockeys' lead from Ramon Dominguez. With one week remaining in the Laurel meet (Pimlico opens April 3), Rose leads Dominguez, 74 wins to 73.

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