01/23/2003 1:00AM

Preakness to add wager

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Pimlico Race Course will offer head-to-head betting on the Preakness Stakes and 11 other stakes races this year, racing officials said Thursday.

The head-to-head bets will be offered on any stakes race run on May 16 and May 17, according to Lou Raffetto, the track's chief operating officer. That will include the Preakness, the Pimlico Special, and the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, Pimlico's three biggest races.

The head-to-head bets were approved on Wednesday by the Maryland Racing Commission. The vote was 3-2.

Head-to-head wagers allow bettors to select one horse to finish ahead of another horse. Like any other parimutuel bet, payoffs are based on the amount of money that is wagered on the horse that wins the bet.

Last year, Breeders' Cup offered a head-to-head bet on seven of the eight World Thoroughbred Championship races. Handle for the wagers was $768,894, which far exceeded Breeders' Cup's expectations.

Takeout on the wagers will likely be 11 percent, Raffetto said.