06/09/2015 11:31AM

Laurel plans low-takeout Super High 5, capital improvements

Barbara D. Livingston
The Pimlico season, which ended last Saturday, was up 9.7 percent in daily average handle to $5.2 million.

With a successful Pimlico season under his belt, Sal Sinatra, general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, is switching his attention back to Laurel Park.

The Pimlico season, which ended last Saturday, was up 9.7 percent in daily average handle to $5.2 million. Sinatra said both ontrack handle and the exported simulcast signal showed increases.

The Preakness and Black-Eyed Susan cards were up compared with a year ago. Preakness Day handle was up 1.6 percent to $85.2 million, according to figures released by the track. That increase came despite handle on the Preakness itself declining 10 percent to $52.7 million. The lower handle can largely be attributed to the strong storm that moved in 20 minutes before post time, creating a chaotic atmosphere and turning the track from fast to sloppy.

Black-Eyed Susan Day made a big jump this year, handling $18.5 million, 48 percent more than a year ago.

Combined, the Preakness and Black-Eyed Susan programs handled $103.7 million, up 7.7 percent from 2014.

Sinatra has a number of projects to complete before the Laurel meet begins. Racing was supposed to return Aug. 1, but the Maryland Jockey Club has modified its dates request and now wants to open July 3 and race Fridays through Sundays. With the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association backing the plan, the Maryland Racing Commission is expected to approve the request at its June 16 meeting.

When Laurel opens, a Super High 5 with a 15 percent takeout will be added to the betting menu, Sinatra said. It will join the pick five with an industry-low 12 percent takeout and the Rainbow 6 that were added at the Pimlico meet.

Sinatra also said the long-term master plan for Maryland racing that he and Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, have been working on since the beginning of the year is unlikely to be made public until late summer, possibly August.

The Laurel meet will have twilight racing on Fridays and day cards Saturdays and Sundays.

“My philosophy is to run when people are off from work,” Sinatra said. “I’m thinking of Fridays as date night, Saturdays as race day, and Sundays as family day.”

To achieve that, there will be bands and food promotions on Fridays, and Sundays will have children’s activities and a buffet.

Parking and admission will be free. “We just want to get people into the building,” Sinatra said.

A number of physical improvements are planned.

“We are going to do the arcade room, the billiards room,” Sinatra said. “We are going to renovate the sports bar, do an owners/trainers lounge, and build a new indoor/outdoor bar so we can serve beer on the grandstand apron. We also are going to have a new simulcast facility.”