Bad Weather Cited for Maryland's Handle Dip

(from Maryland Jockey Club release)
Racing nine fewer days than a year ago because of inclement weather, the Maryland Jockey Club announced its total handle declined less than 3% in 2003.

All sources handle totaled $910.9 million as compared to $935.5 million from the same period in 2002. The daily average handle from all sources increased 1% from $4.85 million to $4.90 million. The daily average handle on the export signal increased nearly 7%.

Record-setting weather wreaked havoc on the racing product all year. Scheduled to race 220 live days during the calendar year, the Maryland Jockey Club was forced to cancel eleven cards and stopped two more midway through the afternoon as snow, sleet, high winds and Hurricane Isabel pounded the Baltimore and Washington D.C. metropolitan areas. The National Weather Service reported that 2003 was the wettest year on record with 62.66 inches of snow and rain at Baltimore-Washington International airport, breaking the old record set in 1889. The region averages less than 42 inches per year.

"Like all the tracks on the East Coast we were negatively impacted by the record setting weather," said Lou Raffetto, chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club. "As an example, during the last 17 days of the Pimlico spring meet, we only used the turf course on Preakness Day. The good news is that the amount of wagering on our signal outside of Maryland continues to rise, indicating that the popularity of our live racing product continues to grow in other parts of the country."

The marquee event of the year, the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), which was run under Magna Entertainment Corp. management for the first time, was a major success as attendance topped 100,000 for the fourth time in five years and betting figures exceeded $60 million for the third consecutive year. The fourth largest crowd in history (100,268) packed historic Pimlico on a cold and rainy May 17, wagering $64.6 million, including $38.5 on the state's signature race.

The two headline events at Laurel Park also produced record-setting handle figures this year. The overall handle on De Francis Dash Day (Nov. 16) was $6.5 million, the best number in the 14-year history of the event. Maryland Million Day (Oct. 18) also enjoyed a record handle of $6.3 million.

In November, the Maryland Jockey Club averted a showdown with horsemen over the possible shutdown of simulcasting by agreeing to keep the Pimlico stables open for the winter. As part of the agreement, the MJC issued standards by which stalls will be allocated to trainers. The standards will ensure that trainers stabled at Pimlico, Laurel Park or the Bowie Training Center run their horses in Maryland instead of at out-of-state tracks. Since the agreement, field size has improved to nearly nine starters per race.

"I believe the agreement has had a positive impact on the number of Maryland-based trainers racing their stock in the state," added Raffetto. "We are seeing fewer horses shipping out of town and we hope the trend continues as we move forward."