Pimlico opening starts Preakness buzz

It's 44 days and counting

betting on par with '03

Horse Racing

April 01, 2004|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The countdown began yesterday with the opening of Pimlico Race Course's spring meet. It's 44 days until the Preakness.

The $1 million Preakness will take place May 15, two weeks after the Kentucky Derby and three weeks before the Belmont. The races make up the Triple Crown, the most popular series in American racing.

On opening day at Pimlico, the Maryland Jockey Club released betting figures for Laurel Park's winter meet, which ended Sunday. Betting increased 2.3 percent compared with the same period last year ($245.5 million to $239.9 million).

However, Laurel raced two more days this year than last year (62 days to 60), meaning that betting was "basically even," said Lou Raffetto Jr., MJC chief operating officer.

"We got crushed in January due to the record cold weather, but we rallied in February," Raffetto said. "Considering how horrible January was, it's encouraging to see the kind of numbers we got."

The Laurel winter meet saw Magna Entertainment Corp., parent company of the MJC, try to attract bettors to its account-wagering system by prohibiting competing systems from accepting bets on races at Magna tracks, including Laurel.

Tim Capps, MJC executive vice president, said that controversial decision had little impact on wagering.

While overall betting at Laurel increased 2.3 percent from Jan. 1 to March 28, betting in-state on Laurel races fell 7.2 percent, betting in-state on out-of-state races rose 4.6 percent, and betting out-of-state on Laurel races rose 2.1 percent.

NOTES: Steve Hamilton hadn't ridden a horse at Pimlico since 1999, but the 30-year-old jockey, who returned to Maryland in January, rode three winners yesterday. ... Hawthorne Race Course, which Magna does not own, has agreed to allow the Illinois Derby to be part of Saturday's Magna 5 wager. The wager, which requires bettors to pick the winners of five races in about an hour, will also include the Aventura Stakes and Santa Anita Derby.

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