Laurel Race Course opened its winter meeting yesterday on an upbeat note as 5,784 turned out in 25-degree weather for the nine-race program.
Apparently as a result of new owner Frank DeFrancis' emphasis on customer satisfaction, parking lot attendants wore silver jackets and mutuel clerks were particularly courteous.
"I am determined to dispel once and for all the notion that racing is a second-class sport and that racing fans deserve less than the best service," DeFrancis said to a gathering of media representatives at breakfast.
"I remind anyone who will listen that nearly three-quarters of the $1.3 billion revenues generated by all sporting activities in Maryland comes from racing; that's over $900 million. Racing is big league and we intend to treat it that way."
Charles Baltazar, who rode his first race at Laurel in 1965, said, "There's an upbeat feeling in the jocks' room." And clocker Kevin Gerrity said the track looked to be in fine shape.
In the feature race yesterday, Tearing Millie, under a strong ride by Phil Grove, held off Owned By All to win by a half-length. Chess Move was third.
Tearing Millie ran the six furlongs in 1:10 over a strip made extra fast by the cold weather. The daughter of Terrific Son paid $5.60 and topped a 1-4 exacta worth $19.40.
The mutuel handle of $840,941 reflected a per capita betting average of slightly more than $153, an encouraging figure, according to DeFrancis.
Although the track usually is dark on Wednesdays during this meet, racing is scheduled today because of Monday's cold-weather postponement. Today's card will be the same as Monday's. It will feature the 12th running of the W.P. Burch Stakes.
The favorite in the six-furlong Burch is I Am The Game, an impressive winner in his only start at Aqueduct for trainer King Leatherbury.
I Am The Game's chief competition is expected to come from Nordance, who has shown improvement with blinkers, and Jay Bran, impressive winner of the E.P. Heagerty Stakes at Bowie despite running erratically throughout the 6 1/2-furlong race.