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Horse Racing

Winter Wagering at Laurel Declined

Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page D02

Despite extensive upgrades and a new dirt racing surface, business at the recently concluded winter race meet at Laurel Park declined sharply, according to figures released yesterday by the Maryland Jockey Club.

A total of $141.7 million was wagered on live and imported simulcast races in Maryland between Jan. 1 and April 17, a 4.7 percent decline from $148.7 million bet in the same time period in 2004.

The results were even worse for Maryland's exported simulcast signal, which saw a 24.2 percent drop, from $155.8 million bet during the meet in 2004 to $118 million this year. Total wagering fell from $304.5 million to $259.7 million.

The 2004 numbers include the first three weeks of the Pimlico spring meet, while the results from this year include three weeks run at Pimlico before Laurel reopened.

Jim Gagliano, vice president of Maryland racing operations for Magna Entertainment, attributed the downturn partly to reduced field size in the higher-class races, although overall field size from year to year increased from 7.55 horses per race to 7.9.

"There's that and the races we're making were cheaper races and not formful or bettable," Gagliano said. "The decline in the racing quality and neighboring states attracting better horses hurt us."

Total attendance on track during the time period declined 4.2 percent.

-- John Scheinman

© 2005 The Washington Post Company