Even before first payoff, OTB hearings produce a tote board full of numbers


Politics and horse racing are strange bedfellows.

But they have certainly contributed their share of newspaper clips over the years.

Last week's OTB hearing before the State Senate Finance committee was no Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas confirmation extravaganza, but it was still good theater.

When the TV cameras left after about an hour, so did most of the senators. Only five of the 10 or 12 lawmakers stayed behind, and one of those fell asleep.

The barrage of statistics thrown out during the four-hour hearing took some time to absorb.

Here are some of the numbers. You have to trust the speakers about their accuracy:

* $41 million -- how much Laurel and Pimlico race courses are in debt.

* five or six -- the projected number of OTB parlors that will be built in the state.

* 19 -- number of Florida OTB sites.

* 40 percent -- increase in handle at Florida tracks since OTB was introduced.

* 35 percent -- increase in purses at Florida tracks since OTB was introduced.

* 10 percent -- decline in Maryland purses over the past year.

* $25 million -- how much the state loses annually in taxes since it dropped its share of the betting dollar from nearly 5 cents to half a cent. That happened seven years ago.

* 43 cents -- portion of every dollar that goes to the state from the lottery.

* $1 billion or $900 million, depending on the speaker -- economic impact to the state from horse racing.

* $150 million -- economic impact of the Orioles on the city of Baltimore.

* $100 million -- economic impact of the Colts on the city when they were in town.

* 20,000 -- number of employees in the state's racing industry.

* 32 -- number of employees on Billy Boniface's horse farm.

* 54 -- number of live races run at New York tracks each week.

* 47 -- number of live races run at Maryland thoroughbred tracks each week.

* 20 percent -- count in the Rosecroft parking lot of cars with Virginia license plates.

* $250 -- Josh Pons' weekly paycheck from his family's breeding farm.

* 118 -- round-trip miles from commission chairman Jack Mosner's house in Pikesville to Rosecroft.

* 14 percent -- decline in the state's Standardbred Breeders' Fund from a year ago.

* 1-4 percent -- percentage of Maryland's population that are compulsive gamblers.

* 0 -- how much the state's racetracks contribute to compulsive ** gambling rehabilitation programs.

Hearing highlights:

* Impassioned testimony from breeders Boniface and Pons about how much their future depends on the passage of OTB. Boniface said he would be forced to move his family to Pennsylvania if OTB is not passed. Pons said he is the "rainmaker" for his farm's finances and was appearing before the committee doing a "rain dance." The farm is in a prime development location near Bel Air, but the family wants to stay in the horse business. Pons passed around pictures of his family to the senators.

* Simpson, Della, Wagner and Green -- This is not the name of a law firm, but the group of prickly senators that asked some darn right hostile questions of the industry's spokesmen.

Their concerns: Why give the racing industry preferential treatment when other businesses are being slapped with burdensome sales taxes? Shouldn't the state get some additional revenue out of OTB? What's to prevent OTB parlors in several years from just becoming simulcast centers for out-of-state races?

* Track operator Joe De Francis addressed all these concerns, but most of the lawmakers had left by the time he was scheduled to speak. The tracks aren't asking for a handout, he said, just the tools to expand their market. What the state loses in taxes is more than made up in economic benefits to the state from a prosperous industry. No one wants to hurt live racing, only enhance it. Horse trainers, owners and breeders have an equal say in all decisions, and they certainly want to maintain live racing.

* Legislative intern Wendy Springer, a political science major at UMBC, helped aides orchestrate the proceedings. But she doesn't want to be a politician. Instead, she's an aspiring jockey.

Springer, who lives in Severna Park, lived in England for six years, and used to gallop horses near Lambourn. "My dad worked for the government, and we lived near Oxford," Springer said. "I knew Steve Cauthen and used to go all over to watch him ride," she said. Springer said she isn't exactly sure how learning the ropes on the backstretch would fit in with her studies.


Enough of OTB: Sunny Sunrise, who ran a tremendous race in the Donn Handicap last weekend and finished third after setting most of the pace, is back at Laurel.

Trainer Bud Delp has ruled out sending the 5-year-old gelding to California for the Santa Anita Handicap, but hasn't decided yet if the horse will run in the $200,000 General George Stakes at Laurel Feb. 17.

If he does, he will be the strong favorite although, Delp's one-time training nemesis in Maryland, Dick Dutrow, has nominated Shuttleman to the race.

"There are only 17 days between races, and I'll have to see how he comes out of the Donn," Delp said. "But he seems fine. He shipped good. He went back to the track yesterday. I should know by Tuesday or Wednesday if I'm going to run him."

The outside post compromised the horse's chances in the Donn. "Sea Cadet [the winner] got the best of it in the weights," Delp said. "Everything set up for him."

The schedule for Sunny Sunrise could include the Oaklawn Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 11 and then the Pimlico Special on May 9.


Weighting for bugs: Topics on Wednesday at the Racing Commission meeting at Rosecroft Raceway will include discussion on the possible return of the old system of weight allowances for "bug" riders.

When the Eclipse Awards were announced last Saturday, no Maryland apprentice was under consideration. That category used to be the special preserve of Maryland jockeys like Mike Luzzi, Allen Stacy and Kent Desormeaux.

Giving back weight breaks (10 pounds, 7 pounds and then 5 pounds after a certain number of races are won) should give trainers incentive to ride the less-experienced jockeys.

Currently, all bug riders get a 5-pound weight break.

The governor's "Green Bag" appointments, which could be made later this month, might change the composition of the commission. Up for reappointment are Ernest Colvin, John McDaniel and Peter Bozick. Gov. William Donald Schaefer still has not filled the vacancy created when Margaret McManus resigned from the board last year.

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