Harness people are wary of simulcast Smaller handles for live cards feared

Operators of the state harness tracks and some of the harness horsemen seem a little bit edgy about Maryland's first experiment into "cross-breed" simulcasting.

Harness managers are crying wolf before they even draw up an agreement between themselves and the horsemen about sharing costs and possible proceeds. Until they make a deal, a 90-day inter-tracking experiment between Rosecroft Raceway and Laurel Race Course can't begin.


The racing commission felt it had to get tough last week and is tabling harness requests until a settlement is reached.

The fear among harness interests is that the afternoon thoroughbred simulcasts at Rosecroft will produce far bigger handles than their live harness racing at night or the standardbred races that are beamed into Laurel.


Then, harness operators say, what's to prevent the thoroughbreds from moving into Prince George's County, lock, stock and barrel?

However, there's a chance the standardbred sport might benefit most. Under the agreement with the thoroughbred tracks, Rosecroft will also simulcast its races into the Baltimore area, either at Pimlico or Timonium race courses. Nighttime OTB could be better received than afternoon OTB.

But the harness people even view going into Baltimore with trepidation.

Pimlico might be too dangerous at night.

Timonium could require extensive renovation to make it into a suitable off-track betting location.

Part of the reason for this paranoia, said Stan Bergstein, executive vice president of Harness Tracks of America, is harness racing's experience in Kentucky.

Louisville Downs, a harness track, was forced out of business when nearby Churchill Downs started taking the thoroughbred signal from Turfway Park and ran head-to-head with the trotters.

The Red Mile, a harness track in Lexington, has experienced similar problems when it competes against Keeneland, although the standardbred facility is still operating.


"It depends on the market," Bergstein said. "Cross-breed

simulcasting is fairly successful in New Jersey." The handles for the thoroughbreds and the harness horses at The Meadowlands are about even, he said.

Bergstein said the same kind of paranoia "only in reverse" happened this past summer in California. Thoroughbred horsemen at Hollywood Park threatened to strike if track operator R. D. Hubbard simulcast harness racing on Friday nights. They thought the trotters would hurt their live thoroughbred racing.

"It's gotten to the point where the sport is just one vast experimental caldron and everyone is feeling his way," Bergstein said. "It used to be a fairly simple business. You could get unanimity on most everything. These days you can't even get a consensus. Each morning the racing executive looks in the mirror when he shaves and knows each day brings a new crisis."

Bergstein said he also keeps abreast of what's happening in greyhound racing. "And they are up in arms because the horse tracks are sending their signals into the dog tracks," he said.

Bergstein's advice to the local industry: "All you can do is experiment. You won't know how something works if you don't try it."


The 'Million' moves

The eighth Maryland Million will be run at Laurel Race Course next year instead of at Pimlico.

The past four runnings have been at the Baltimore track, and executive director Richard Wilcke said it's time for a change.

"We want it to be a bi-metro event rather than just a Baltimore event," he said. "That helps in getting corporate sponsors as well as putting a big sports event between the two cities."

The date for the Maryland Million is Saturday, Oct. 9, the opening weekend of the 1993 Laurel fall-winter meet.

Texas ground-breaking


Last weekend Laurel-Pimlico operator Joe De Francis was in Dallas attending the ground-breaking ceremony for the new track he's assisting in building for the Lone Star Jockey Club.

When called on to speak, he described himself "as a city boy from Baltimore" and noted he was getting blisters on his feet from walking in his new cowboy boots.