Televised races from tracks in New York, Florida and California proved more popular yesterday with Maryland bettors than the live card at Laurel Race Course.
It is the first time since the full-card simulcasts were introduced on May 6 that the betting on the out-of-state product exceeded the handle on Maryland's live card.
It is the second jolt that has hit Maryland's live racing program this week, leading to the perception that the local tracks are offering an inferior product. Two stars of the local jockey colony, Edgar Prado and Mike Luzzi, are leaving Laurel to compete at Aqueduct and one of the leading trainers, Dale Capuano, is contemplating taking a 32-horse string to Oaklawn Park, although Capuano said yesterday that he has no firm plans.
"It's starting to look like Penn National [a minor Pennsylvania track] around here," one fan said yesterday.
A total of $565,995 was bet on the nine Maryland races at the state's seven betting outlets compared to an estimated total of $587,000 wagered on 28 televised thoroughbred races from Aqueduct, Calder and Hollywood Park and 12 harness races from Freehold, N.J.
Track operator Joe De Francis said he thinks the figures are "an aberration. It was a cold, miserable rainy day here and the fans also had a chance to bet on races in Florida and California where the weather was great. I fully expect the same thing to happen later this winter when we take bets from Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Park. To me, it shows the importance of the simulcasts. Even in bleak weather, we can still offer fans good entertainment. Overall we bet $1.1 million in state. Think of what the figure would be if we didn't have the simulcasts."
Richard Hoffberger, president of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said he, too, is not alarmed by the figures.
"We're talking about a swing of $22,000 on a day when the whole system [including $365,846 bet out of state on Laurel's races] handled $1.5 million," Hoffberger said. "We know that Wednesday is the worst day of the week, that we shouldn't have switched from Sundays this fall. But who was to know the Redskins would have played so poorly?"
There are a lot of bookies in Las Vegas that lost money on football, too. We have taken corrective measures and will race only one more Wednesday [switching back to live Sunday racing on Dec. 26]. Worrying about it seems ridiculous to me."
Ted Snell, president of Rosecroft/Delmarva said his tracks have been simulcasting out-of-state races about a year longer than Laurel/Pimlico. "So far, we've never had this situation happen," he said. "But we're experiencing our own unique situation tonight. More money will be bet out-of-state on Rosecroft's races (at nine outlets) than will be bet on our card in Maryland.
"But so what if the simulcast handle exceeds what's bet on the live product? There's nothing wrong with that other than paying the sending tracks 3 percent [of the handle]. As long as the overall bottom line increases profits and purses, then it doesn't matter."
Horsemen fear that if a trend develops, then track operators will no longer need to run live races.
De Francis said that kind of paranoia locally is ridiculous. "I'm tired of people seeing witches and goblins behind every tree," he said.
NOTES: Negotiations between the Manfuso brothers and De Francis were canceled yesterday, but are expected to resume today. Both sides are trying to reach a settlement that will pave the way for a track buyout. . . . Departing jockeys Prado and Luzzi won six of the nine races yesterday at Laurel.