It was Friday the 13th yesterday at Bowie Race Course, but for the hardcore horseplayers who came down from Miller's delicatessen in Baltimore to bet their favorites, it was Christmas in February.
"It's 90 miles a day round trip down here. You can get killed traveling that far," observed a delighted Marv Foxman in the clubhouse just before post time for the second race yesterday. "When they're running at Pimlico, I can get up at noon and still make the first race."
Like a great many Bowie patrons, Foxman was waxing enthusiastic yesterday over plans by Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes and legislative leaders to terminate thoroughbred racing at Bowie and at the Timonium Fairgrounds for a consolidated and, they hope, more profitable, thoroughbred schedule at Pimlico in Baltimore and at Laurel.
Never long on sentimentality, the horseplayers and most people connected with the racing industry took in stride the news of the proposal to close 65-year-old Bowie, basing their opposition or support purely on the basis of personal convenience.
"Nobody wants to drive all the way down here. It's too far," said Doc Meyers, a pharmacist and another regular at Miller's, a favorite gathering spot for Baltimore horseplayers. "It's hard to get a ride."
Even Al Karwachi, general manager at Bowie, was philosophical, shrugging his shoulders and observing that, "For about 16 years, I've been worrying about consolidation. Maybe it's good for racing, but I'll wait until the bill passes."
Lunching with friends in the clubhouse, Karwachi was interrupted by messengers several times. A group of patrons wanted his approval on petitions to keep Bowie open; several radio and television stations wanted his comments on the consolidation proposal.
"What can I say?" said Karwacki. "We will have no official comment until we have seen the legislation."
Jiggs Lancaster, a horseman who grew up near the Bowie track, was dining with some guests from Baltimore at Karwacki's table. "I am opposed to this," he said. "My horses have always run well here."
Lancaster's comments were echoed by several other horsemen. One of them, Eddie Gaudet, argued that mismanagement at the Bowie track is the main factor leading to pressures to shut it down.
"They've squeezed this lemon so dry, there just isn't anything left," said Gaudet. "But it would be a crime to close it. They can keep 900 horses here, and there are some good practice tracks.They don't have room for any of that at Pimlico or Laurel."
As envisioned in the Hughes proposal, the 96 racing days that Bowie currently is allotted would be distributed equally between Pimlico and Laurel, the latter located approximately midway between Baltimore and Washington with easy access to I-95 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. The plan calls for compensation to Bowie of up to $6 million for those lost racing days, a cash figure that Karwacki readily conceded gave him no problems whatsoever.
Timonium's 42 racing days would also be split between Laurel and Pimlico, drawing $400,000 in compensation from the state, but there were few in the racing business yesterday lamenting the loss of the half-mile Timonium course.
"It's a bad track," said Tommie Caviness, a licensed trainer.
As a small track, Timonium tends to draw the lesser-known figures in the racing industry, but it does have a small band of loyalists.
"I almost cried when I heard about Timonium," said Barbara Frock, a jockey's agent whose husband has raced horses successfully at Timonium.
"A lot of people are going to feel a loss. It's so small that everyone is friendly. It's a place where even the little people can feel like somebody. As far as Bowie is concerned, you can close it down anytime you want."
Under present arrangements, track employes and the employes of Harry M. Stevens Inc., which holds the food and drink concessions at Maryland tracks, move from one track to another as the racing dates change. The Hughes proposal would benefit those living closer to Laurel or Pimlico and hurt those living in the Bowie area.
"I'm dead against it, because I live closer to Bowie," said Bill Brown, an officer of the union representing racetrack employes. "But we feel it's going to be better all around. It will create more jobs."
Said a clubhouse waiter, "We always do a better business at Pimlico, even Laurel."
Ron Alfano, one of Maryland's leading trainers, observed that recent improvements at the Laurel track make it the equal of the course at Bowie, but he suggested that the state not act too quickly to close Bowie. "Bowie has a fine track, too," he said.
About two miles north of the Levitt subdivision at Belair, Bowie is less accessible than Laurel to the major population centers of Baltimore and Washington, a factor in Laurel's favor in the minds of many bettors.
"Gas is so expensive now that you can come here and win five races a day and still lose money," said one."I think the bill will pass, and I'm already getting ready to sell my house. I'll move somewhere around Columbia or Catonsville, about halfway between Laurel and Pimlico, and then I'll never have to leave the state."