The Maryland racing scene shifts to the state fairgrounds in Timonium today for an abbreviated, eight-card session that will conclude on Labor Day.
It marks the second consecutive year that Timonium has sliced its schedule by two racing days because of cutbacks in state subsidies to the sport.
"There was a little more money around this year, but not nearly enough," said Howard "Max" Mosner, general manager at Timonium. "Doing that enabled us to keep purse levels where they were previously, and we actually ended up doing more business in eight days than we had in 10."
The purse structure will average $150,000 daily, with only two stakes scheduled, the $40,000 Alma North on Aug. 31 and the $40,000 Taking Risks on Labor Day, both for state-bred horses. There will be no live racing Monday and Tuesday, but simulcast betting will be offered.
Although Timonium's live handle decreased in 2001, the difference was more than covered by an increase in simulcast wagering on action at such tracks as Saratoga, Delaware Park, Monmouth Park and Calder.
"We cut back expenses somewhat by not running two days and it may have been a fluke that we handled more money," Mosner said. "But we opted to go with the same schedule to find out."
Approximately 100 horses are on the grounds, some moved from Pimlico earlier for the Harley-Davidson 100th anniversary celebration. The majority of Timonium's runners will be Maryland-based; the influx of horses from Charles Town and other tracks has waned in recent years.
Travis Dunkelberger, who is used to the tight turns of the short tracks as a Charles Town regular, will be back to defend the jockey crown. Most of the regular riding cast will be in action, except for Mario Pino.
Pino - closing in quickly on 5,000 career victories - will serve a seven-day suspension during the meeting and ride only one day at Delaware Park (Aug. 31) before Pimlico reopens Sept. 4. He needs nine to reach the milestone.
The journeyman jockey was blanked yesterday and surrendered the jockey crown to Horacio Karamanos, 31-30, as Laurel Park closed a 22-day summer stand on an upbeat note.
After some early problems with a mushy turf course, field sizes actually increased to average nearly eight horses over the five-week period, enabling Laurel to register a 17 percent rise in all-sources wagering over the corresponding period of 2001.
"We are very pleased with the meet, being able to run essentially eight horses per race," said Lou Raffetto, chief operating officer for the Maryland Jockey Club.
Karamanos won the sixth race on the final card aboard Las Malvinas and survived a tie in the next event when Pino's mount was disqualified after finishing first.
Rodney Jenkins, a Hall of Fame show jumper, won eight races with only 20 starters to add a training title to his resume. He edged the Capuano brothers, Dale and Gary, each of whom saddled seven winners.
Jockeys competing at Timonium will conduct two Labor Day raffles, one to benefit the Disabled Jockey Fund and the other for the families of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Tickets will be $2 and can be purchased at the main grandstand entrance, second-floor reserve seat booth and the jockeys' room.
Items to be raffled include bats, helmets, baseballs and jerseys used and/or autographed by Cal Ripken and Roberto Alomar; Leonardo DiCaprio and Aaron Carter merchandise, and an autographed Paul McCartney guitar.
In addition, Dunkelberger will autograph a major-league baseball and toss it to a fan after each of his victories at the track. Dunkelberger T-shirts will be available to those contributing to the jockey fund.