Attendance and optimism were both trending upward on the opening day of the summer session at Laurel Park.
A crowd of 4,901 took in the first card of the meeting, which runs through Aug. 27. That's an increase of a little more than five percent over last year's opener. Maryland racing officials were even more buoyed by the fiscal figures from the just-completed Preakness season at Pimlico.
According to James Mango, chief operations officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, all the betting numbers are up significantly over last year. The year-to-date handle of $477 million represents an increase of $48.5 million compared with a year ago.
A huge portion of that handle hike comes from out-of-state bettors via simulcast outlets. The amount wagered on Maryland racing by in-state bettors is up $6 million, of which at least $2 million can be attributed to the successes of last month's Preakness Day. But the amount that outsiders have wagered on Maryland racing this year is up $33 million, or 31 percent.
"That shows that we're doing a great job with our simulcasting, and simulcasting is the future of this sport," Mango said.
After perusing the latest figures, Maryland Jockey Club President Joseph De Francis declared the state of his state's racing industry to be quite sound, and fairly railed against anybody who spouts the conventional wisdom that the sport is in trouble.
"All the numbers are all very strong," De Francis said. "I've been in this business for 20 years, and lately I'm beginning to feel like Mark Twain when he said the reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated. The perception of racing as a dying industry is just erroneous. Today, we had a great opening day, and we just want all that momentum to carry over as we make the move to Laurel."
A long-shot horse whose name echoed De Francis's message, Cynics Beware, took the first feature of the summer season, the $75,000 Fine Handicap.
Though Mario Pino rode Cynics Beware to a win three weeks ago in an allowance race on the grass at Pimlico, bettors had little faith that the 5-year-old son of the broodmare Cynicism would repeat the feat against stakes company, sending him off as their fifth choice at 8-1.
Coming out of the second post, Pino took to the rail and let his mount lollygag toward the back of the eight-horse pack for most of the 1 1/8-mile turf trip. But when the rider went to his stick leaving the last turn, Cynics Beware punished the pessimists with a strong closing kick, nipping heavy favorite Hardy's Halo and Edgar Prado at the wire.
Cynics Beware finished in 1 minute 48 2/5 seconds and paid $18.80.
"We're real hopeful for him," said co-trainer Charles McGill.