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De Francis' goal: secure improvements; Horse Racing


Now that both houses of the General Assembly have approved the Maryland Racing Act of 2000, what happens next?

First, the governor must sign it. Everyone expects he will. Then, according to Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, De Francis and cohorts will meet with representatives of the Maryland Economic Development Corp. That is the state agency that will sell revenue bonds to help finance improvements at Pimlico, Laurel Park and Rosecroft Raceway.

De Francis said he'll have to get straight "the mechanics" of selling the bonds -- mainly, how much money will be available for improvements, and when. De Francis proposed that the bonds generate $35 million and his company kick in $30 million -- for a total of $65 million in upgrades at the state's major thoroughbred tracks.

No matter how this works out now, it seems fairly certain that major improvements will occur at Pimlico and Laurel Park. Doesn't it?

"I certainly hope so," De Francis said. "That's our intention."

The reaction, of course, is mixed.

Gamblers, especially big gamblers, hate that the bonds will be underwritten largely by an increase in takeout on races at Pimlico and Laurel. Beginning July 1, that part of each dollar withheld will increase from 17 percent to 18 percent for bets involving one horse (win, place or show), from 19 percent to 21 percent for bets involving two horses (exacta, daily double) and from 25 percent to 25.75 percent for bets involving three or four horses (trifecta, superfecta).

Studies have shown that increasing the takeout reduces the handle, and some fear that this is what will happen on Maryland races.

On the other hand, most Maryland racing fans would like to see improvements at Pimlico and Laurel -- even though many would argue that the track owners exclusively should pay for them. The two tracks recently reported a 1999 profit of $2.46 million.

The Maryland Racing Act of 2000 also includes $10 million for thoroughbred and harness purses. And it also includes a provision that would allow Laurel to run races into the evening. De Francis said he plans on doing just that.

Beginning July 1, or shortly thereafter, Laurel will move back its weekday post time to 3: 30 or 4 p.m., De Francis said. (This must be approved by the harness interests.) That would allow people -- potential new bettors -- to stop in after work, De Francis said. Weekend post time will remain 1 p.m., he said.

At Pimlico, beginning May 24 (the week after the Preakness), weekday post time will switch from 1 to 2 p.m. De Francis said the reason for that is that bettors wager more later in the afternoon than earlier. However, he said, no plans exist for running thoroughbreds at Pimlico at night.

Calling on Prado

Edgar Prado, the former Maryland jockey, has secured the mount on Lemon Drop Kid as well as other horses owned by Jinny Vance and Laddie Dance. The couple owns Taylor's Purchase Farm in Sparks.

"We just thought it was time to make a change," Vance said. "Edgar's a really good kid and a really good rider. This will be good for him, and it will be good for us."

Along with their trainer Scotty Schulhofer, Vance and Dance had employed the veteran jockey Jose Santos. In an allowance race last weekend at Aqueduct, Santos made a premature move with Lemon Drop Kid that resulted in a dead heat instead of an easy win. Trainer and owners had also been unhappy with earlier Santos rides -- although he rode Lemon Drop Kid perfectly while winning last year's Belmont and Travers.

Prado's first assignment aboard Lemon Drop Kid will come May 13 in the Pimlico Special. He will also ride the 3-year-old Postponed from now on -- first in an allowance race next month, then the Peter Pan Stakes and finally the Belmont Stakes.

Honoring Md.'s best

The Maryland Horse Breeders Association honored the state's best in thoroughbred racing Thursday at its annual dinner and awards ceremony at the Science Center. In addition to the previously reported winners, Robert E. Meyerhoff was honored again as leading breeder, his Dynamic Star as Broodmare of the Year, and Country Life Farm's Allen's Prospect as Stallion of the Year. Best of Luck was Maryland-bred Horse of the Year. . . .

The local auctioneer Frank Russo is planning an auction of memorabilia at 5 p.m. May 21 at the Timonium racetrack. He expects to auction more than 300 items, including many from the estate of longtime Maryland starter Eddie Blind. For information, call Russo at 410-592-3111.

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