As Maryland thoroughbred racing begins its quiet summer season, a glance back and a look ahead made Lou Raffetto Jr. smile yesterday at the Maryland Racing Commission meeting at Pimlico Race Course.
Thoroughbreds won't compete in Maryland again until Aug. 12, when racing returns to Pimlico for nine days of live racing during the two-week span ending Aug. 26. In the meantime, Colonial Downs in Virginia begins an eight-week meet Friday.
Raffetto, chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, called the betting figures for the recently concluded Pimlico meet "excellent" and said the new turf course this fall at Laurel Park should lure more bettors to Maryland racing.
Raffetto told commissioners at their monthly meeting that workers would finish laying sod tomorrow on the 142-foot-wide, seven-eighths-mile-long turf course at Laurel. That's 18.6 acres of sod, Raffetto said.
Beginning Sept. 8, opening day at Laurel, four and sometimes five turf races will be run daily, he said. Turf racing will continue as late into December as weather allows and then start up again in April, Raffetto said.
"Hopefully, we'll find our niche with this turf at Laurel," he said.
Betting figures for the Pimlico meet that concluded Sunday showed a 7 percent increase in total wagering over last year's figures. The increase was due to a record-setting Preakness and an agreement that allowed wagering on thoroughbred racing at Rosecroft Raceway, a harness track.
A total of $243.4 million was wagered during the spring meeting of 39 days of racing and 17 days of simulcasting, compared with $227.4 million for the same number of racing and simulcasting days last year.
In-state betting on Pimlico's races was up 2.3 percent ($21.9 million this year, compared with $21.4 million last year), and in-state betting on simulcast races was up 24.4 percent ($70.7 million this year compared with $56.8 million last year). Finally, betting out of state on Pimlico races was up 1.1 percent ($150.8 million this year compared with $149.2 million last year).
"We had an excellent meet with a great Preakness, to boot," Raffetto said.
The Preakness attracted record betting and record attendance of 115,318, the largest crowd to witness a sporting event in Maryland.
NOTES: Tom Chuckas Jr., president and CEO of Rosecroft, told commissioners that he expects the harness track in Prince George's County to make a profit this year of about $150,000. It would be the first time since 2002 that the track near Washington has been profitable. ... Lou Ulman attended his last meeting as a racing commissioner. A member of the commission since 2001 and a past chairman, Ulman, an active Democrat, was not reappointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican. Ehrlich appointed Bill Gerweck, general manager of Winbak Farm in Cecil County, to replace Ulman.