Everybody should have a Pimlico Day

April 21, 2005|By DAN RODRICKS

INSTEAD OF SLOTS, what we should do, for the sake of the thoroughbred horse racing industry in Maryland, is give everybody the afternoon off. Make it a state law: Every employer in the state gives every employee one afternoon per spring to go to the races and absorb atmosphere, patronize the concessions and/or bet on the horses. Everybody gets a Pimlico Day.

That's what I'm talkin' about.

Anybody have a problem with that?

Yesterday - another extravagantly gorgeous day in one of the finest springs in recent Baltimore history - was opening day of the 2005 Pimlico run, and while there was a nice crowd, there wasn't a great crowd. There should have been.

I feel about the racetracks the way I feel about drive-in movies, farm fairs and certain old restaurants and coffee shops - unless we go there, and bring our kids there, then nobody goes there, and soon there's no there there.

I believe every Marylander has an obligation to support the thoroughbred horse racing industry - and not by playing slots, but by playing the ponies.

This is relatively cheap entertainment featuring beautiful animals ridden by great athletes. It needs support of a new generation of citizens to survive.

So, to each a Pimlico Day, I say.

If you have a problem with betting, fine. Don't bet. Just hang. Just chill. Eat a hot dog. Drink a Yuengling. Look at the pretty horses. Watch the people. Count the number of guys in guayabera shirts. (Distinctive for their two vertical pleats, four pockets and white-on-white embroidery, this is your basic icon of Latino masculinity and style. I saw two at Pimlico yesterday, my first sightings of the spring.)

I arrived at the track in time for the first race of the new season. They charge you $2 to park, and if the people running this place do anything new and different this season, they ought to do away with $2 to park. Pimlico is starving for customers and they still charge for this?

Give me a break.

Yesterday, there was no charge for admission, the program was complimentary and you could fill out a form and take a chance on a set of Orioles tickets. Nice touches.

I felt appreciated.

So you know what I did? Instead of putting $2 on News Reporter to win the first race, I put $10. You see how this works? The customer felt appreciated, so the customer threw a little something extra at the pari-mutuel clerk. It's good business; you give to get.

Besides, how could I pass up a horse called News Reporter, especially with 5-2 odds? I am a sucker for 5-2 horses.

There were three scratches in the first race, and only seven out of the gate. News Reporter, with Alberto Delgado riding, ran next to last for most of the mile-and-a-sixteenth, then finished a strong third, as is his tendency apparently. Nice horse. He could be a contender - in a six-furlong race with a running start.

Not that I really know anything about this. I'll admit it - I am rusty when it comes to handicapping. I need a refresher course. I met a guy yesterday who could give one - a third-generation railbird named Gary Quill. He was there on his lunch break, and the lucky stiff won the Daily Double. It paid $16.80.

Quill's father, Maurice, used to study the Daily Racing Form. He kept back issues. If he planned to go to the track on a Saturday - "maybe once a month," his son says, "and he was a $2 bettor" - he would stay up until midnight Friday studying past performances.

Maurice Quill's father, also Maurice, and Uncle Raymond, both from Lakewood Avenue near Patterson Park, used to go to the tracks all the time. "For them it was cheap entertainment," Gary Quill says. "And it still is."

But we keep hearing predictions of its death. Without slot machines in Maryland, the governor and others keep telling us, the Maryland racing industry is going to continue to suffer.

The purses need to be bigger.


But the purses might be bigger if the handles were bigger.

And the handles might be bigger if more people went to the track. And if they brought their kids, as Pop Pop Quill did his, there might be a genuine future for the sport.

I have been saying this for years to friends who also appreciate the horse scene and want to see it survive: They should erect giant light towers at Pimlico, illuminate the whole place and have night racing. Baseball figured this out a long time ago - people work during the day; they have more free time at night. Put up lights, make the place secure and inviting, and more of the people who think of Pimlico on one spastic Saturday in May might think of it on other, quieter gorgeous days in spring.

Either that or we give them all the afternoon off.

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