New `head-to-head' bet OK'd for 2 Pimlico dates

Horse Racing

January 23, 2003|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Bettors on two of Maryland's most important racing days - Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness days - will be able to place a new, innovative wager designed for patrons who believe trying to pick winners is too complicated.

The Maryland Racing Commission approved the "head-to-head wager" yesterday at its monthly meeting at Laurel Park. It means betting on which of two horses chosen by racing officials will beat the other, regardless of either's overall finish.

Neither has to win or even hit the board. One can finish fifth, the other eighth, a scenario that would see bettors on the fifth-place finisher win.

Lou Raffetto Jr., chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, proposed the wager for stakes races on May 16 and May 17 at Pimlico. The Black-Eyed Susan Stakes and Pimlico Special head the list of stakes on May 16. The Preakness and seven other stakes highlight the May 17 card.

The new wager would feature a reduced takeout of about 11 percent, Raffetto said.

"I don't usually jump on new ideas of this type," he said. "But I think this would work for us. I think the public would like it."

The Breeders' Cup tried head-to-head wagers for the first time on its eight-race schedule last fall at Arlington Park. Bettors wagered $768,894 on seven two-horse match-ups. (The eighth was canceled because one of the horses was scratched.) Payoffs on a $2 bet ranged from $2.20 to $4.40.

The Maryland commission narrowly approved the wager by a 3-2 vote. Lou Ulman, the chairman, and John Franzone, a commissioner, opposed it. They said bettors might complain if both horses were hopelessly beaten and their jockeys did not push to try to beat each other.

The commission deferred action on a proposal for thoroughbreds that would prohibit trainers from claiming horses and then quickly running them back in equal or cheaper races. The idea would be to keep trainers from claiming sore horses and then trying to dump them.

"We're not trying to tie anybody's hands," said Ann Merryman, a trainer who favors the idea. "We just want to slow down the attrition of our horses."

Commissioners said they wanted to hear from the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association before acting.

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