Early returns from the first Colonial Downs harness meeting are not promising.
Opening night, the track drew a crowd of 6,153 and handled $924,018, not bad figures compared with last fall's thoroughbred stand.
But the numbers fell off dramatically during the next two cards -- to 2,003 attendance and $401,698 in handle last Sunday, a money figure lower than any single day of the thoroughbred meet.
The figures include totals bet on Colonial's races at simulcast outlets around the country.
"It's uncharted water here. It takes time to develop a business," said Jerry Monahan, Colonial Downs' vice president for racing operations. "We're really anxious to see how things develop. So far it's good, and we feel it will grow."
Colonial lost nearly $1 million in the first quarter of this year, and officials blamed the results on disappointing performance from two new off-track betting centers.
The loss was 13 cents a share, compared with earnings of 12 cents a share over the same period in 1997.
Colonial conducts its harness meeting through July 5, then will hold a Super Meet in November with eight Breeders Crown events.
Vice president Gil Short said he believes the track has to average 3,000 fans nightly for the current meet to succeed.
Representatives of the Maryland Jockey Club and the state's horsemen and breeders continue to meet to hammer out a final agreement on intertrack betting.
Maryland Jockey Club president Joe De Francis said yesterday, "I can't talk about any details, but we are progressing."
The most encouraging sign on that front is a mellowing of the position of the harness horsemen, who had talked of "pulling the plug" on state simulcasting.
"They seem to be satisfied temporarily," De Francis said. "And that is very good news."
The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and Maryland Horse Breeders' Association embrace the concept of revenue-sharing that the agreement provides.
The stumbling block has been how to share expenses with track management.
Preakness Day dos and don'ts in the infield:
Yes to beer, wine and soda, individually carried in plastic contains or cans, picnic lunches, folding chairs and tables, beach blankets, suntan lotion, baby carriages, good-luck paraphernalia like rabbits' feet.
No to drugs and hard liquor, tents, hibachis and barbecues, ladders and scaffolding, beer kegs, nonfolding furniture, hand carts or wheeled carts, glass containers.
Handicapping Sir Barton
The $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes on Preakness Day is shaping up as a mini-Preakness and may turn out to be more competitive than the big race.
Entries could include Monk's Falcon and Spartan Cat if they do not run in the Preakness, Grand Slam, a Grade I winner at Belmont Park, Tesio winner Thomas Jo and Poolman, winner of the Woodlawn Stakes last week.
The race is for 3-year-olds.
The Maryland Jockey Club reported the handle on thoroughbred racing increased 6.1 percent to $13.3 billion last year.
It marks the fourth straight year for a gain, although, with inflation factored in, not as high as the percentage.
Racing's biggest positive is off-track betting sites, which now account for 78 percent of the total handle, according to the Daily Racing Form.
Only $2.93 billion was bet on track.
Pub Date: 5/10/98