Maryland thoroughbred racing in the era of simulcast wagering and off-track betting parlors seems to be holding its own.
When the numbers were compiled after a 30-day live summer meet ended yesterday at Laurel Race Course, it was the first time since the televised cards from out-of-state tracks and the OTB parlors began operating last year that comparative statistics could be analyzed in "an apples-to-apples situation," said track spokesman Tim Capps.
During the 30-day period, fans bet $48 million at eight Maryland betting outlets on the live Laurel card as well as full-card simulcasts from Philadelphia and Monmouth parks and Churchill Downs, an increase of about a half of one percent from last year.
"While the increase is marginal, we have to remember a couple of things," Capps said. "At this meet, we were in a transitional simulcast stage. Last year, we offered simulcasts from New York and California tracks. This year, those signals, which are expensive to obtain, were eliminated and replaced by Philadelphia, Monmouth and Churchill, all tracks where we have reciprocal simulcast arrangements.
"The fans bet just as strongly on those cards. But more importantly, the figures show very, very clearly that our fans want the simulcast product. Last year, when the televised races were first introduced, it was something new and exciting. That interest has now been sustained over a year's time. I think people are comfortable with the simulcasts and have learned the routine."
After the 12-month period, fans still bet more on Maryland's live product than they do on the simulcasts although the percentages have narrowed. The percentage of the total handle now wagered on the live races is 54 percent compared to 46 percent on the simulcasts. Last year at this time, that split was about 60-40, showing a 12 percent live card drop this year.
"The job now is to increase betting on the live product," track operator Joe De Francis recently said.
The recently completed Laurel meet follows a record-breaking Pimlico spring meet and is the second straight thoroughbred meet to show a business increase this year.
For the next two months, the Baltimore area is the center for live thoroughbred action.
Live cards at Pimlico start tomorrow and run through Aug. 26. Then the Maryland State Fair at Timonium conducts its 10-day live meet from Aug. 27-Sept. 5 until Pimlico resumes on Sept. 8 and runs through Sept. 25.
Little Gray Wolf, winner of the Very Subtle Breeders' Cup at Laurel, is the 122-pound high weight and favorite tomorrow in the $50,000 Park Heights Stakes, the opening day Pimlico feature.
On Laurel's closing program yesterday, the Robert Meyerhoff stable struck again. Jockey Andrea Seefeldt saved ground along the rail with favored Tennis Lady and came from last place in the 10-horse field to defeat long shot Vaulted by a head.
Tennis Lady became the seventh 1994 homebred stakes winner campaigned by Meyerhoff, who has won a total of 10 stakes races this year. The other Meyerhoff stakes winners are Concern, Looming, Broad Gains, Fleet Broad, Sticks N Bricks and Higher Strata. In addition, Meyerhoff has bred an eighth 1994 stakes winner, Jan Keys, whom he sold as a yearling.
Five other Meyerhoff homebred campaigners -- Valley Crossing, Frottage, Up An Eighth, Fleet Call and Private High -- have placed in 1994 stakes.
Mark Johnston outrode Edgar Prado at the Laurel meet, winning 38 races to 36 for Prado. It was Johnston's first Maryland meet title since 1990.