Twilight racing will be the latest innovation on trial when Laurel Park launches its summer meeting tomorrow.
During the week, eight-race cards will begin at 3 p.m., spaced so that the program is completed by 6:15 p.m., a time mandated by the thoroughbred tracks' deal with Maryland harness racing operators.
Post times will remain at 1 p.m. for Saturday, Sunday and holiday cards and on days the track has steeplechase racing (June 16, 17, 22 and 23) the first post is at 2 p.m.
"The thinking behind this is that we are selling our signal to a lot of areas in the Midwest, such as Arlington Park, which have later racing," said John Mooney, chief operations officer of the Maryland Jockey Club.
"We can get more races in later in the day. The feeling is that more will be wagered between 5 and 6:15 than between 1 and 2:30. It's becoming very apparent that our live crowd is coming later."
The change will also allow Maryland to avoid much of the head-to-head betting and signaling against the Eastern-based tracks.
"Obviously, when the days get shorter, we'll have to end this start ing time," said Mooney.
Opening day will feature free admission, a free program and a coupon book and the $30,000 Bold Queen Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
The highlight of the meeting is the Grade II, $300,000 De Francis Dash on July 15.
Supplement yields full fields
Introduction of the full-field supplement has helped ease the problem of small fields in Maryland.
Before the program began on June 1, only 39 percent of the races attracted eight or more starters. That number has risen to 69 percent.
Maryland Jockey Club president Joe De Francis called the full-field supplement "a dramatic success. Combined with our recently announced 7 percent purse increase, we're hopeful that the number of starters will continue to grow."
The full field supplement offers a 40 percent purse increase for all races with eight or more betting interests. The exceptions are maiden special weight and turf races.
The average number of starters has risen from 7.4 to 8.5 with claiming events experiencing the biggest jump.
Preakness gives handle boost
A record-setting Preakness enabled Pimlico to record a 13.9 percent increase in handle over 1994 for its spring meeting.
The total handle was up almost $18 million for a meeting that was a week shorter than last year. In-state handle figures also improved by 13.9 percent.
Additional figures released by the mutuels department show a 21.6 percent increase in total handle and a 7.6 percent rise in in-state handle at the state's tracks since Jan. 1.
The Preakness handle totaled more than $33.9 million.
Maryland-based Concern won the Grade 1, $250,000 Californian yesterday at Hollywood Park. Trained by Dick Small and owned by Robert Meyerhoff, the Breeders' Cup Classic winner last year was second choice in a field of nine and returned $7 to win. . . . Nellie Custis -- half of a 10-to-1 entry saddled by William Turner Jr. -- surged through the stretch to win the $30,000 April Run Stakes over Joy Of Ireland at Pimlico. She finished 1 1/2 miles on the turf in two minutes, 29 2/5 seconds, only two seconds off the track record. . . . King Leatherbury (26 wins) and Mark Johnston (74) won the trainer and jockey titles, respectively, at Pimlico's meet.