Despite dire predictions about the Maryland Jockey Club's recent hike in takeout rates, bettors have not deserted Laurel Park races in droves for races at out-of-state tracks.
Jim Mango, chief operations officer of the MJC, said that betting patterns apparently have not changed since the takeout increase took effect July 1. Averaging about 1.5 percent, the increase applied only to races at Laurel and next spring at Pimlico. The additional takeout - the money withheld from each wager - will help fund track improvements.
"In my opinion, it's had zero impact so far," Mango said.
The percentage of handle bet on Maryland races vs. out-of-state races has not changed significantly, he said.
During the first six months of the year, before the takeout increase, 28 percent of money wagered in the state was on Maryland races. Since the increase took effect July 1, the percentage has dropped to 26 percent.
But that, Mango said, is typical of what happens in July because of increased competition from other tracks. Last year, for instance, the difference in those percentages was slightly more pronounced: 30 percent for the first six months, 27.2 percent for July.
Mango said that for the first six months of this year compared to the same period last year, betting overall in Maryland was down 3.5 percent, and it remains down the same percentage since the takeout increase.
He attributed that to the closure of three off-track betting parlors - one permanently, two for remodeling. They would typically contribute more than 4 percent of the total handle, Mango said.
Considering all factors that affect handle, he said, the news overall is good. Allowing for the loss of handle from the closed OTBs, betting remains on par with betting last year, he said.
And that has occurred despite a reduction in field size, perhaps the most significant factor affecting handle.
In July 1999, Laurel Park's races averaged 7.5 horses. So far this July, they've averaged 7.15 horses, Mango said. The decrease is mainly due to rain that has forced races off the turf. Turf races typically attract the most horses.
"I've always thought the biggest thing we had to do is get more horses on the racetrack," Mango said. "That cures everything. Handle goes up significantly when you have more horses on the track."
If you're a horseplayer, you've probably received your "mystery voucher" from the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
Calling it the largest direct-mail campaign in the history of horse racing, the NTRA mailed $3.7 million worth of vouchers last week to more than a million racing fans around the country.
The vouchers are worth from $2 to the one worth $1 million, and they're redeemable next Sunday at the recipients' local track or off-track-betting center.
The idea, of course, is to lure people to the racetrack.
Maryland will be represented in the major racing events next Sunday around the country: the $1 million Haskell Invitational Handicap at Monmouth Park, the $560,000 Claiming Crown Championship at Canterbury Park in Minnesota, and the $750,000 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga.
Haskell dark horse?
The Haskell won't feature either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness winner, but it will introduce to a national audience a Maryland-based horse named Thistyranthasclass (pronounced, This-tyrant-has-class).
John J. Tammaro III trains him at Bowie, and Tammaro believes his lightly raced New Jersey-bred is ready to compete with national company, especially since several leading 3-year-olds have been sidelined by injury or illness.
"There's no Skip Away or Holy Bull in there this year," Tammaro said of the Haskell. "But still, you've got a million-dollar race, so you're going to face the top 3-year-olds in the country.
"But he's coming good at the right time. A lot of those other horses have been used hard. My gut feeling is he's going to run big."
A son of Regal Classic and the Tyrant mare Waltzing Empress, Thistyranthasclass has won four of five races, including the $100,000 Long Branch Breeders' Cup Handicap at Monmouth. He defeated Graeme Hall, who won the Arkansas Derby. In the Haskell he will likely face Commendable, who won the Belmont, and More Than Ready, who finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby.
The second annual Claiming Crown, a Breeders' Cup-like series for claiming horses, has attracted several horses with Maryland-based trainers. Included in the pre-entries are:
Miner's Trick (Dale Capuano trainer) and Max Regent and B Flat Major (both trained by Scott Lake) in the $125,000 Claiming Crown Jewel; G.R. Rabbit (Lake) and Inevitably Private (Michael Pino) in the $100,000 Claiming Crown Emerald; Covert (Capuano) and Pine Baroness (Pino) in the $100,000 Claiming Crown Tiara; A Lot Of Mary (Lake) in the $60,000 Claiming Crown Glass Slipper; Spit Polish (Lake) in the $50,000 Claiming Crown Express, and Preyail (Capuano) in the $50,000 Claiming Crown Iron Horse.
Tough crowd at Whitney
The Whitney will feature the three top-ranked horses in the country: Golden Missile, Lemon Drop Kid and Behrens.
Owned by part-time Marylanders Jinny Vance and Laddie Dance, Lemon Drop Kid could emerge as the No. 1 horse in the country with a victory in the Whitney.