Yesterday might have seemed like an ordinary Tuesday in Maryland racing.
But it was something of a banner day for Pimlico/Laurel operator Joe De Francis and his management team.
For the first time since the tracks instituted a multiple-signal simulcasting program on April 29, live handle at Pimlico actually increased from the comparative date in 1992.
A year ago yesterday, $915,409 was bet on the nine-race Pimlico card, compared with yesterday's $941,561, also on nine live races. The latter figure does not include the extra $481,750 bet on full-card simulcasts from Belmont Park, Freehold Raceway, Churchill Downs and Hollywood Park.
With simulcast betting included, the gross handle for the day was 38 percent more than a year ago.
During the first 18 days of the multiple-signal program, live handle declined 18 percent, but when additional simulcasts are added in, the overall gross handle has risen by 17 to 20 percent from 1992. And net handle, after simulcasting costs are deducted, has increased by 5 to 8 percent.
The impact on the live card is less than feared, especially after yesterday's live handle increase.
"What this shows is that our fans are coming back," De Francis said. "We are offering them a better product because of the addition of the out-of-town races, and that they are betting on our live races as well."
Concurrent with introducing the multiple signals, Pimlico/Laurel also added Rosecroft Raceway as an afternoon simulcast center and the Frederick off-track betting parlor at the Cracked Claw restaurant opened, giving Pimlico/Laurel two new wagering outlets. The Cracked Claw has been an unqualified success. Wagering there through yesterday has averaged about $87,000 a day.
The great fear among management and horsemen was that the betting on the live races would be cannabalized when fans could bet on additional full cards of races telecast from the out-of-state tracks.
It happened at Delaware Park last year, when the handle on the live card dropped about 35 percent.
During the first four weeks of Maryland's entry into the electronic racing age, the most serious impact on the live product occurred last week, when live handle declined 23.6 percent.
But De Francis pointed out that during a comparative three-day period last year, betting was strong on the live Pimlico card because there was a large Double Triple carry-over, which eventually paid $213,000. "Any time the Double Triple is over $100,000, betting escalates," he said. "This year we have had no Double Triples approaching that size, so I regard those three days as an aberration.
"Overall the trend has been less of an impact of our live card from the simulcasts."
NOTE: The De Francis Dash, run at Pimlico on July 24, is expected to be part of a proposed Summerfest racing series to be televised on ESPN and simulcast nationwide. The Summerfest program, arranged by the promoters of the American Championship Racing Series, consists of 10 major stakes run on two Saturdays. On July 3, the stakes are the Molly Pitcher (Monmouth), Dwyer (Belmont), Triple Bend or Affirmed (Hollywood), Arlington Classic (Arlington) and Hollywood Gold Cup (Hollywood). The July 24 lineup includes the American Derby (Arlington), Sunset/Swaps (Hollywood), Top Flight (Belmont), De Francis Dash (Pimlico) and Iselin Handicap (Monmouth).