05/14/2009 3:53PM

Light Menus at Pimlico

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The Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness cards at Pimlico Friday and Saturday comprise 26 races including 13 stakes, nine of them graded:


As an enthusiastic player of stakes-rich multirace bets on big-event days, I was salivating over these lineups  -- until I remembered that there is no pick-6 either day, and only two pick-4's on each 13-race card (races 4-7 and 9-12 Friday and races 5-8 and 9-12 Saturday.) Pimlico also does not offer pick-3's starting on the first race or in the same races that start pick-4's. 

By comparison, Churchill Downs ran a 12-race Oaks card and a 13-race Derby card and offered pick-6's both days, four pick-4's on each card, and rolling pick-3's starting with the 1st and regardless of what other multirace bets started on the same races.

These decisions may make sense for Pimlico's regular daily racing, where the additional pools might be small and cannibalize one another, but not on the only two days of the year that the track draws an enthusiastic national betting audience, which bet $71 million on last year's Preakness card.

It seems odd to continue the curtailed menu in a year where there is already concern over possible handle declines due to the national economy and to new restrictive alcohol rules that may cut into on-track attendance. Also, multirace bets are the fastest-growing category in American racetrack wagering, and the strongest year-over-year gains on Derby Day were in the pick-4 and pick-6. Yet instead of adding multirace bets to match the Derby and Oaks offerings, Pimlico's only additions to the betting menu this year are two Super High Fives (a Magna invention) to each card. SH5 betting on the Derby was off 25 percent from last year.

The first Saturday pick-4 is guaranteed at $250k (it handled $339k last year) and the one ending with the Preakness has a guaranteed pool of $1 million (that one handled $1.39 million last year.)