The future of Maryland's racing industry should come int sharper focus during the next three months when live racing is conducted at Pimlico Race Course.
The 55-day spring meet, which includes the Preakness, the Pimlico Special and an innovative roster of 10 stakes carded during the Preakness Week celebration, starts today.
But the real test comes with the arrival of expanded betting menues. An experimental inter-track wagering program between the state's thoroughbred and harness tracks -- which means televised trotting races from Rosecroft and Delmarva raceways will be shown at the Baltimore oval at night -- will finally be up and running in the next couple of weeks.
Once that program is launched, the thoroughbred tracks will start taking full-card simulcasts from out-of-state tracks in California, New York and one Midwest site.
After the cross-breed and multiple-signal simulcasts start, the first off-track betting parlor is expected to open at the Cracked Claw Restaurant near Frederick.
The massive overhaul of the state's racing industry-- linking Maryland's thoroughbred and Standardbred tracks together as partners for the first time -- has involved more than a year of strategic and technical planning. Now, it is ready to be tried. But no one can predict how it will be accepted by the public or how much revenue it will generate.
Officials hope the innovations will reverse business declines that have plagued the thoroughbred tracks during the last two years and revive both of the state's stagnant flat and harness industries.
At Pimlico today, fans should see improvements in the second-floor clubhouse dining area and the Sports Palace. Throughout the plant, television monitors will show a split screen version of each race -- the whole field at the top of the screen and the first couple of horses at the bottom.
"It's something our fans have asked for at the town meetings," said general manager Jim Mango.
The Lasix barn for horsemen has been moved to Barn 8 adjacent to the receiving barns (nos. 9 and 10). The former Lasix barn is being used for permanent stabling since Barn F on the Hayward Avenue stabling side was demolished a few weeks ago.
Track superintendent John Passero said he is content with the condition of the racing surface despite the battering it took during the recent blizzard.
"We graded it over the weekend, then added a couple of hundred tons of sand. During the last couple of days, we packed it down hard to keep the rain out," Passero said. "[Jockey] Joe Rocco worked horses over it yesterday and told me it felt fine."
Pimlico runs through June 8. The Preakness and Pimlico Special are scheduled for May 15. Post time is 1 p.m. daily. Mondays and Wednesdays are dark.
Von Csadek staying home
Plans to run Baltimore County-based jumper Von Csadek in the April 3 English Grand National at Aintree Race Course in Liverpool, England, have been scrapped.
The horse was scheduled to have a prep race in Aiken, S.C., last weekend, but turned up lame the morning of the race and was scratched.
"We're conducting all sorts of tests, but we still haven't pinpointed the problem," said trainer Doug Worrall.
Worrall said the horse will definitely not go to England and that his status for the Maryland Hunt Cup on April 24 is questionable. Von Csadek won the Hunt Cup last year by about 40 lengths.
Howard County races canceled
The Howard County-Iron Bridge Hunt Races, scheduled for Saturday at Meriwether Farm in Glenelg, have been canceled.
"There is just no way we can get horse vans onto the grounds after this week's rain," said committee member Marion Scullin.
The races had been originally carded for last Saturday, but were postponed due to snow. Now they will not be rescheduled.