Maryland Jockey Club expecting continued growth in 2017

Posted: Dec. 27, 2016

In keeping with current trends, the Maryland Jockey Club for the Laurel Park winter/spring meet will bundle stakes to create more marquee days on the calendar. In addition, the MJC anticipates continued growth on the pari-mutuel side in 2017.

There will be 22 stakes, 17 in the winter and five in the spring, for the meet that begins Jan. 1 and ends May 7. The stakes will be packaged on five days: Jan. 14, Jan. 21, Feb. 18, March 18 and April 22.

In another change, the grade II Barbara Fritchie Stakes and grade III General George Stakes will be held on the same day—Saturday, Feb. 18. In previous years, the Fritchie was held on Saturday and the General George Monday, President’s Day. The Feb. 18 card will include four other stakes.

The March 18 program, with five stakes, is part of an inaugural day for owners and breeders that will offer seminars, purse incentives and other events. Two of the stakes will be for Maryland-breds.

“We’re trying to make it a day for bringing new people to the track,” MJC President and General Manager Sal Sinatra told the Maryland Racing Commission Dec. 20. “We’re trying to grow the business that way.”

Racing at Laurel will be held primarily on Fridays through Sundays and Monday holidays; when there is Monday racing the following Friday will be a dark day.

This year’s meet at Pimlico Race Course will be 12 days from May 11-29. The first week will offer Thursday-through-Sunday racing, followed by racing Thursday through Saturday (May 20), which is Preakness Day. The meet wraps up with five consecutive days of racing from May 25 through May 29, Memorial Day.

Sinatra said it takes weeks to construct facilities in the infield for Preakness, and “there’s not enough time to pull it all down” to enhance the viewing experience for the remainder of the Pimlico meet. He also said the facility on live racing days post-Preakness was a “ghost town” last year when the meet was about 25 days.

Thus, Laurel will reopen for live racing June 9 after a 10-day break in live action in Maryland.

All-sources pari-mutuel handle in Maryland this year was up about $60 million from 2015 through mid-December. Sinatra said if wagering continues to grow, “a half-billion dollars (in total handle) is in our eyesight for next year.”

The MJC recently signed a two-year racing agreement with the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners’ Association for Rosecroft Raceway, which the MJC purchased earlier in 2016. Rosecroft, an important year-round simulcast facility that generates purse revenue for Thoroughbred racing, will reopen for live racing in March with racing three nights per week: Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We had a big learning curve,” Sinatra said of the harness meet that ended Dec. 15. “The two-year agreement gives some semblance of continuity. It’s a market there; it needs some TLC and attention. It can be a nice place down there.”

The MJC earlier indicated it plans to make more improvements at Rosecroft, including renovation of the first-floor simulcast area.

(Laurel Park photo by Tom LaMarra)