George Dilillo, an Expos fan in town for the All-Star Game, thought he'd take in the races at Laurel Race Course yesterday before heading home to Montreal.
"But I thought there would be horses here," he said.
Instead, Dilillo experienced the newest phenomenon at the Maryland flat tracks -- horse races without live horses.
Since April, Laurel/Pimlico has been simulcasting full cards from out-of-state tracks, but always in conjunction with a live card.
But beginning yesterday, management ran simulcast races from Belmont, Monmouth, Arlington and Hollywood parks on a Wednesday, normally a dark day at the tracks, and split its share of the proceeds with local horsemen.
The expanded format allows for continuity for fans who follow the out-of-state races and like to bet them daily. It also should benefit management's bottom line and generate additional purse money.
At Laurel, about 1,100 showed up, about a quarter of a normal weekday crowd. At the six Maryland wagering outlets -- Laurel, Pimlico, Rosecroft and Delmarva plus the Cracked Claw and Poor Jimmy's off-track betting outlets -- about $550,000 was bet on the 37 races.
The breakdown, by track: Belmont Park (nine races -- $152,977), Monmouth Park (10 races -- $126,362), Arlington International Racecourse (nine races -- $115,356) and Hollywood Park (after five of nine races -- $71,840).
"For the first day, I think it went pretty good," said Jim Mango, Laurel/Pimlico senior vice president of mutuels and development. "We would have been happy with $500,000, and exceeded that a little bit. I think it's something that's going to catch on."
At the Cracked Claw, proprietor Johnny Poole said "we weren't that crowded. But we seem to have picked up some big bettors." Business -- estimated between $50,000 to $60,000 -- was about the same as the handle on Tuesday when a nine-race Laurel card was supplemented by simulcasts from Monmouth Park and Yonkers Raceway.
Unlike live racing days, there was no charge for parking and admission at Laurel.
With the advent of Wednesday simulcasts, Monday is the only dark day on Maryland's mile track thoroughbred calendar.
Yes to live racing
Even though Laurel/Pimlico offers a heavy schedule of out-of-state, full-card simulcasts, don't expect the telecasts to continue when Timonium offers 10 days of racing (Aug. 28 through Sept. 6).
"We like live racing," general manager Howard M. "Max" Mosner Jr., said yesterday at a meeting of the Maryland Racing Commission.
Mosner said there will be some simulcasting at the State Fair meet "but no full cards and not every day." Occasional races from Saratoga, Monmouth Park or The Meadowlands may be offered.
State Fair management is spending $1.2 million to install a new roof and lighting in the track grandstand, as well as a new press box and stewards' stand.