Local horseplayers had to agree yesterday with Nick the Greek's famous observation that there's one thing worse than gambling and losing: not gambling at all.
Those of us who were counting the hours until the start of Laurel's racing season would have gladly sacrificed part of our bankroll just for the sake of getting into action. Alas, we never got the chance.
Laurel's opening day card was canceled after heavy early morning rain inundated the racing strip. The storm hit shortly after 8 a.m. At 10 o'clock four riders, a steward and General Manager Frank Brady inspected the track and found that parts of it had been washed away.
They agreed that the track wasn't safe and that racing would have to be canceled. For the rest of the day Brady supervised work on the track so that Laurel can open today at 1 p.m. Grandstand admission will be free.
Of course, rainouts aren't supposed to happen at a major-league track; racing strips are supposed to survive blizzards and hurricanes, let alone a routine rainstorm. But Laurel's track has been a problem ever since it was rebuilt in 1972 at a cost of $1 million. Trainers have grumbled about it constantly. Horseplayers have been mystified by its inconsistencies.
This year Laurel officials tried to correct these problems by adding material to the base of the track and changing the composition of its cushion. Laurel distributed press releases with glowing quotes from trainers praising the condition of the track. Their praise was obviously premature.
While the rain put the track out of commission, it wasn't going to deter the area's hardy horseplayers. Lured by the prospect of free admission to the grandstand and spurred by their own unslaked thirst for action, they were heading for Laurel in numbers that would have given the track a banner opening day.
Because the decision to cancel racing came so late, many horseplayers never got the message. Their cars were creating traffic jams on the principal roads leading to Laurel, and when they got to the track and received the bad news, many of them couldn't quite believe it. At 12:50 p.m., the time when horses would have been coming onto the track for the first race, a number of diehards were standing by the rail, perhaps hoping for a miracle.
Howard Whittington of Baltimore was one of them. "I had my radio on all the way to the track and I never heard anything about a cancellation," he said. "I was going to save two bucks on the admission and bet an extra daily double. It just goes to show: you never get nothing for nothing."
"I've been psyched for Laurel for days," said another distraught horseplayer, Carlos Meyer. "I drove to the track from Annapolis, got caught in a traffic jam and finally got to the track and saw what had happened. I sat in my car, absolutely depressed, for about 20 minutes. I was hoping I'd see one of the boys and they'd suggest a little poker game or a little gin rummy. I'm so starved for action now that I may have to press my bet on the Packers tonight."
Carlos pressed on his bet, psyched himself up, turned on the television at 9 o'clock and saw Jimmy Carter instead of Steve Grogan.It was one of those days.