Maryland Panel OKs 'Head-to-Head' Wagering

Bettors on May 16-17 will be able to play the new "head-to-head wager" that debuted at the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. The wager will be offered on the Preakness Stakes, Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, Pimlico Special, and other stakes at Pimlico Race Course those two days.

The Maryland Racing Commission approved the wager Jan. 22 at its monthly meeting. It involves betting on which of two horses --chosen in advance by racing officials--will beat the other, regardless of where they finish.

Lou Raffetto Jr., chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, proposed the wager for stakes. The Black-Eyed Susan Stakes and Pimlico Special head the list of stakes May 16. The Preakness and seven other stakes highlight the May 17 card.

The bet will feature a reduced takeout of about 11%, Raffetto said.

"I don't usually jump on new ideas of this type," Raffetto said. "But I think this would work for us. I think the public would like it."

The Breeders' Cup tried head-to-head wagers for the first time on its eight-race schedule last fall at Arlington Park. Bettors wagered $768,894 on seven two-horse match-ups. (The eighth was canceled because one of the horses was scratched.) Payoffs on a $2 bet ranged from $2.20 to $4.40.

The racing commission narrowly approved the wager by a 3-2 vote. Lou Ulman, the chairman, and John Franzone, a commissioner, opposed it. They said bettors might complain if both horses were hopelessly beaten and their jockeys did not push to try to beat each other.