It will be easy to distinguish the true horseplayers from the wimps at Laurel Race Course this summer.
The patrons who fall into the latter category will be perfectly content with a 10-race program. After the finale, they may go home to have dinner with their families or engage in some other civilized activity. The hard-core bettors, however, will make a right turn on Route 1 and drive down the road to Freestate Raceway for 10 more races under the lights.
It is almost unprecedented for two horse tracks to operate so close to each other. Frank DeFrancis, the president of both Laurel and Freestate, has to worry that the close-range competition will hurt both operations.
But for those of us who love a maximum amount of action, this is is an unusually convenient way to partake of 19 exactas, five triples, two daily doubles, a Pick Six and a Super Bet in one day.
Usually such doubleheaders require a lot more travel and stress -- such as the tough Maryland-to-Charles Town grind, or the trip that was the undoing of my college career: from Suffolk Downs in Boston to Lincoln Downs in Pawtucket, R.I.
My favorite doubleheader of all was one I made in England with colleague Clem Florio. We saw a day's races at Royal Ascot, caught a train back to London to change out of our top hats and tails and made it just in time for the evening's first race at Walthamstow Greyhound Track.
But now, thanks to the oddities of the Maryland racing schedule, such stress is no longer necessary.
When Laurel and Pimlico were left as the state's only two major thoroughbred tracks and had to construct the annual racing calendar, neither wanted to run throughout the summer, which traditionally has been the weakest part of the racing season.
So they divided the summer dates, with Laurel operating in June and early July. Since Freestate always runs during the summer, DeFrancis had no choice but to operate his thoroughbred track and his harness track at the same time.
"There isn't much precedent for this type of situation," DeFrancis said, "but two years ago, when Hawthorne and Sportsman's ran against each other in Chicago, the results were very undesirable. But here we have a unique situation, because both tracks are controlled by the same person -- me -- and we have an opportunity for cross-marketing."
DeFrancis moved Laurel's post time back to 1:30 so patrons wouldn't have to twiddle their thumbs too long before the 7:30 weekday post at Freestate.
On Saturday night, he gave out free Laurel admissions at Freestate.
On Sunday, the opening day of the Laurel season, free passes to Freestate were given to patrons leaving the track, and they were reminded that there was a $75,000 pot in the Super Bet, the latest form of exotic wagering.
More than 500 people made the trip down Route 1 and, presumably, they were good customers.
"I think, by and large, these people would have to fall into the high-action category," DeFrancis theorized.
For DeFrancis, Sunday turned into an amazingly good day: Freestate's attendance was 7,065, Laurel's was 12,297. The turnout for the thoroughbred card was especially surprising in view of the historically mediocre performance of summer racing in Maryland.
"I know that one rose doesn't make a summer," DeFrancis said, "but I think summer racing can be very good here.
"This year we've kept all of the horses, trainers and jockeys in the state as opposed to previous years, when they defected to New Jersey . I can understand why summer racing didn't go at Timonium or Bowie, but I'm looking forward to a great meeting."
So are the hard-core players who are tough enough to handle 20 races in one day.