The summer racing season begins in earnest this weekend with harness racing returning to Ocean Downs, fireworks exploding at Rosecroft and jockeys signing autographs at Laurel Park.
Ocean Downs, the harness track near Ocean City, begins its 50th season tonight and its second as the property of Bally's. Physical improvements continue, said Dennis Dowd, president of Bally's at Ocean Downs, but some things never seem to change.
"Our problem still is slots-fueled purses up the street," Dowd said, referring to nearby Harrington Raceway in Delaware.
Boosted by profits from slot machines, Harrington offers purses of $110,000 a day. Ocean Downs will pay purses of slightly more than $20,000 a day. And they're that high -- 15 percent more than last year -- because of the state's racing subsidy.
When Ocean Downs opened last year, Harrington wasn't running. Ocean Downs had 137 horses opening night. This year, Harrington runs until July 8 and reopens in August. Tonight, Ocean Downs has 80 horses.
But still, Dowd was upbeat and looking forward to Ocean Downs' 40 nights of racing, especially the 50th-anniversary celebration July 25. That will feature, among other things, a concert by the New Orleans band Jumpin' Johnny Sansone and the Blues Party.
Standardbreds will race at Ocean Downs Wednesday through Sunday in July, and Wednesday and Friday through Sunday until closing Sept. 5. Post time is 7: 30 p.m. The track offers free parking and admission, giveaways on Wednesdays, pony rides on Fridays, live music on Sundays (as well as Ray Charles on Aug. 4 and Sammy Kershaw on Aug. 10) and simulcasting of thoroughbreds and Standardbreds every day and night.
At Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's County, tomorrow is Family Fun Fest, featuring free carnival rides, a concert by the oldies group the Hubcaps beginning at 5 p.m. and a fireworks display after the last race about 11 p.m.
Post time is 7: 20 p.m., as always Thursday through Saturday. Rosecroft will offer simulcasts every day and night except Mondays, its lone dark day.
Tom Chuckas Jr., Rosecroft's general manager, said business is steady. The state grant helped boost daily purses from $37,500 to $55,000.
"We're holding our own," Chuckas said. "Racing is good, very competitive."
At Laurel Park, where thoroughbreds race afternoons until Aug. 23, jockeys will sign autographs from 11: 45 a.m. to 12: 30 p.m. Saturday as part of Jockeys Across America Day, a fund-raiser for the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund for disabled riders. Jockeys will also "dash" on the turf course between races.
In addition, the track will sell Fourth of July picnic lunches and provide activities such as pony rides and magical acts for children. The featured race is the $100,000 Fort McHenry Handicap on turf.
The highlight of the summer meet is the $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash on July 18. It usually attracts the top sprinters in the East.
Pub Date: 7/02/98