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'05 wagering at 2 tracks climbs

Despite a year of turmoil over slots issues and racing dates, wagering at Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park increased in 2005, according to figures released by the Maryland Jockey Club yesterday.

Fueled by a record-setting Preakness, a new turf course at Laurel and two stakes-heavy cards on the Laurel fall calendar, the total handle climbed from $868.1 million in 2004 to $896.1 million in 2005. The daily average handle increased by nearly 4 percent to $3.54 million. And wagering during the Laurel fall meeting was up nearly 30 percent, while export numbers were up more than 60 percent from the previous autumn.

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Laurel -- William Pagonakis rode Senor Freddie to victory in yesterday's fourth race, the first time he had been aboard a winner in nearly 10 years. "There is a not a greater feeling in the world," said Pagonakis, 51, whose previous victory came aboard Premadonna Mama on Feb. 26, 1996. Later that year, he left the jockey colony and ran the Double T Diner in Catonsville. Not happy with his fitness, he returned to the track last year to exercise horses for trainer Ferris Allen at Laurel and now gallops 18-20 horses a day each morning.

Eclipse Awards -- Breeders' Cup Classic winner Saint Liam, Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex and sprint star Lost in the Fog were among the finalists announced yesterday. Three finalists in each of 15 categories were chosen, with Saint Liam in the running for top older horse, Afleet Alex for champion 3-year-old male and Lost in the Fog for best sprinter. Finalists for Horse of the Year were not released, but Saint Liam and Afleet Alex are likely candidates. Winners will be announced Jan. 23 in Beverly Hills, Calif.


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