01/05/2006 1:00AM

Laurel, Pimlico see handle rise


Boosted by a record-setting Preakness Stakes at Pimlico and a new turf course at Laurel Park, handle figures for Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park in Maryland increased in 2005 from 2004, according to figures released on Thursday by the Maryland Jockey Club, the owner of the two tracks.

Total wagering on races at Pimlico and Laurel was $499.8 million in 2005, compared with $485.2 million in 2004, an increase of 3 percent, according to figures provided by the MJC. The Maryland racing calendar had two fewer live racing days in 2005 than 2004, the MJC said.

The figures were boosted by three days in which the Maryland Jockey Club's tracks set handle records. On May 21, bettors wagered a record $91 million on the Preakness Stakes card at Pimlico; on Oct. 15, the day of the Maryland Million, betting was $5.1 million, a record for that event; and on Nov. 19, a card including eight stakes races drew $4.8 million, a record for the Fall Festival of Racing.

Strong figures for the Laurel fall meet were also a significant factor. Laurel opened a new turf course this fall that was well received by both horsemen and bettors. In fact, average out-of-state betting on the 77-day Laurel fall meet jumped 48 percent, from $1.34 million a day to $1.99 million a day.

The majority owner of the Maryland Jockey Club is Magna Entertainment, the national racing conglomerate.