Laurel Race Course will present Maryland's first Sunday racing program Nov. 18.
The state's Thoroughbred Racing Board approved the innovation yesterday. Last week, the board had encouraged Bowie to experiment with Sunday racing during the winter, but Laurel's management asked to try it first.
This will probably mark the start of Sunday racing on a regular yesterday basis in Maryland, although some civil and religious groups are going to fight it and although track officials don't know quite what to expect from it.
Laurel, in particular, doesn't know, since its Sunday racing will run head on into professional football.
"We really don't know how we are going to do," said John D. Schapiro, the track's president, "but that's why we want to try. The experience in New York, going against professional football, was not satisfactory at first, but now they seem to be doing very well -- much better than on Saturday."
Schapiro said he did not anticipate much local opposition to Sunday racing at Laurel, but the neighbors of Bowie and Pimlico may be more hostile to the idea. Del. Gerald Devlin (D-Prince George's) filed a bill in the state legislature that would ban Sunday racing at Bowie. Speaker Ben Cardin attached a rider that would forbid Sunday racing at Pimlico.
But Sunday racing is likely to take hold, as it has in every Eastern racing state except Maryland and New Jersey, because of economics.
"Once Sunday racing is looked on in its proper light," said Pimlico General Manager Chick Lang, "then we'll see that it's a good thing. It has kept Delaware, Penn National, Charles Town and other tracks afloat. It adds jobs to the economy . . . It is necessity."
Most tracks have, in fact, found that while Sunday racing has helped their business, it has not been a bonanza because they have to pay their employes time and a half. This is also the case in Maryland.
Charles Town's general manager, John Battaglia, cited some figures to illustrate the way this overtime eats into the profits of Sunday racing. Last Sunday, Charles Town handled $352,000; if it had been operating on a Monday, the handle would have been around $215,000. The track keeps about 7 percent of the difference of $137,000, or about $9,600.
But the payroll for mutuel clerks on the Monday would have been about $3,000; on Sunday, it was $7,300. That money, plus salaries for other track employes, ate up more than half the extra income generated by Sunday racing.
Battaglia added that he did not think the change in the Maryland racing schedule would hurt Charles Town. "They'll have to go dark one other day a week," he said, "and on the day that they do, we'll race in the afternoon."
Laurel hasn't yet announced what its dark day will be.
Schapiro recognized that Sunday racing might not generate greater profits for his track, but he felt it could be very beneficial, anyway.
"There are a lot of people looking for diversion on a Sunday," he said. "We are interested in attracting new fans who have never been to thoroughbred racing before."