Handicapping took on a new dimension at Pimlico yesterday. Form, class and pace became secondary. Finding a betting window with a live person and more importantly, a live machine behind it was the day's most important variant.
A blown transformer knocked out power to most of the facility before The Sir Barton Stakes. Suddenly finding a working teller became as challenging as putting together a winning super trifecta.
"It's OK with me. This place just saved me a ton," said Buddy Snipes, a convenience store operator from Fayetteville, N.C.
Snipes was waiting for the Preakness to bring out the heavy iron. He wanted to put $100 across the board on Cape Town. Like many who bet down the fifth-place Kentucky Derby horse, Snipes loved Cape Town's connections of trainer D. Wayne Lukas and jockey Jerry Bailey.
Snipes was spared the $150 he would have dropped in The Sir Barton. Another of his travel buddies, Terry Spell, was less fortunate. He found an operating window to dispense his losing ticket.
Snipes and Spell have made the Preakness a spring ritual. Spell once wired a $4,000 trifecta box betting the Black-Eyed Susan. An eight-hour drive is worth it when you live in a state that doesn't offer pari-mutuel wagering. However, for much of yesterday afternoon most of Pimlico Race Course didn't offer it, either.
"It's still a big thrill to be here," Spell said. "We make a weekend of it. You can look at it another way: The longer the windows stay down, the more money most of these people take home."
Spell had an exacta box of Cape Town, Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet and Victory Gallop ready for whenever he could find some action. Winner.
Pace became the day's most significant factor. Not the fractions, but the time it took a handicapper to go from 20 deep in line to a teller. One frustrated bettor was in solid position, fifth with five minutes to go, only to see a guy in front of him recite his bets for the rest of the card. He got shut out.
For Jim Blanchard, yesterday was a first. First day at the Preakness. First day at any racetrack. Three hours before the Preakness the Ellicott City resident was still undecided, but his system already was in place.
"My grandmother lives in Flint, Mich., and went to the races regularly. She would always play the second favorite. And she won a lot. She doesn't follow it that closely anymore, but I think I'll take her advice," said Blanchard.
For every novice, there were two wise guys. Brothers Frank and Bill Muscatello remain close by meeting at major race events around the country. Frank lives in Connecticut; Bill lives in Florida. They were at Keeneland earlier this year when a power outage forced postponement of the Jim Beam Stakes to Sunday. They were at the Belmont Stakes two years ago when a systems malfunction prevented on-track betting. "Here, people seem to take it in stride. New Yorkers aren't quite as understanding. There was almost a riot there," Bill said.
The brothers received another sobering experience at the 1996 Woodbine Breeders' Cup when the Canadian track ran out of beer after the second race.
Standing at the "$50 minimum" line, the heavy-hitter Muscatellos waited patiently. Frank had a theory in pocket: Victory Gallop in the 10th. A change of jockeys from Alex Solis to Gary Stevens was key.
"Solis kept him too far back in the Derby. Stevens will have him in position at the top of the stretch, guaranteed, and I think that makes Victory Gallop the best horse in here," said Frank, who said he had $250 to back his opinion.
John Schilling, a student from Harrisburg, Pa., was less philosophical about his day at the races. Sitting with his back to a grandstand betting window, he looked around and fumed, "$12 to get in and $25 to get a seat, and then I can't get anything down," he said. "I guess they haven't done this before, have they?"
Schilling's wagering strategy for next year? Stay home and bet the simulcast at Penn National.
Lisa Hassen and Diane Beck, self-described "domestic goddesses" from Pittsburgh, arrived resplendent in color-correct yellow and black. While their husbands waited vainly to get down a bet, Beck proudly gave her carefully researched analysis. "I'm taking Classic Cat," she said, "because we have the same birthday."
Unfortunately, Beck and Classic Cat also shared the same time for 1 3/16 miles.
Pub Date: 5/17/98