Brisk business at the betting windows might bring about a purse increase at Laurel Park sooner than expected.
Barring the same sort of cataclysmic winter weather of a year ago, track owner Joe De Francis said yesterday that by the time the last condition book or schedule of races at Laurel is printed in March, purses might revert to their previous level of three months ago.
"We were hoping to restore purse levels by the start of Pimlico [April 4]," De Francis said. "We will certainly be able to do that. But maybe we can raise them before."
De Francis cut purses approximately 8 percent at the start of Laurel's fall meet in order to reduce about a $2 million purse overpayment to horsemen. Overpayment occurs when the track pays out more money to winning owners and trainers than is generated by betting.
But that overpayment figure has now dropped to about $420,000, largely because of hefty wagering over the holidays.
"During the last week of the year, we made up $230,000 [in the purse account]," De Francis said.
But the inroads made on the purse account still could have little impact on the current dispute between management and horsemen over the proposed 1995 stakes schedule.
Horsemen want less money put into stakes and more allocated to everyday races. That could be achieved, they say, by eliminating such costly races as the Pimlico Distaff and All Along Stakes that haven't attracted strong fields in recent years.
At the same time, De Francis is asking horsemen to contribute more money toward the Preakness purse.
As of yesterday, no meeting was scheduled to try to resolve the conflict after talks broke off Thursday night. In the meantime, horsemen are refusing to authorize simulcast contracts selling the Laurel live races to out-of-state outlets until the issue is settled.
The horsemen and tracks agree to sell their races to out-of-state outlets on a six-month basis. The last contract to be approved by the horsemen ended Dec. 31.
One outlet, the Atlantic City Casino Association, which simulcasts Laurel's live daily card, is continuing to take the races on a day-to-day basis, said Laurel's simulcast coordinator, Dennis Smoter, pending the outcome of negotiations.
But several states such as New Jersey, Louisiana and Texas, are sticklers for strict enforcement of having simulcast approvals on file, Smoter said. If the Maryland horsemen and tracks don't come to an agreement soon, some officials feel it could cost the tracks about $225,000 in daily business from just the New Jersey outlets.
Wayne Wright, executive director of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said he's hopeful a meeting will be set up between the two groups in the next week to 10 days.
* NOTES: Tomorrow's $30,000 Laplander Handicap at 1 5/8ths miles for older horses was canceled when it drew one starter. . . . New Maryland owner Frank Auego from Plainville, Mass., was busy at the claiming box yesterday. He haltered a 5-year-old mare, Unlawful Behavior, for $30,000 from the seventh race. Auego has claimed five horses for his BMCI Stable since hiring local trainer Ferris Allen III about a month ago.