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PIMLICO POWER OUTAGE LEADS TO ANYTHING BUT "REAL QUIET" FANS
Published May 18, 1998
A power outage at Pimlico Race Course closed betting windows, shut off grandstand lights and brought "general confusion" to the Preakness Stakes, "delivering a painful blow" to MD's horse racing industry on its biggest day of the year, according to Babington & Solomon in a front-page piece in Sunday's WASHINGTON POST. The timing of the power failure "could hardly have been worse" for a state industry "struggling to remain profitable and popular." The power failure "further wounded the pride of the country's second- oldest track," and also "cut into the revenue of what is the single most profitable day for Maryland thoroughbred racing, an event largely responsible for keeping the state's tracks in the black financially." A record crowd of 91,122 wagered "about" $1.1M less than last year, "about $361,000 less" on the Preakness Stakes alone. While betting windows in the grandstands and portions of the clubhouses lost power, bettors were able to wager at infield windows and off-track sites in MD, but the "hardest hit were fans in the sprawling grandstands," many of whom left "in disgust" to watch the race at home (Babington & Solomon, WASHINGTON POST, 5/17). POWER PLAY: The power outage cost the racetrack "as much as" $2.5M in lost bets, as many fans in attendance were "unable to bet and questioning whether it is worth returning to Pimlico next year" (Howard Libit, Baltimore SUN, 5/17). MD Jockey Club President & CEO Joseph De Francis: "We can't measure the loss of goodwill and customer satisfaction." The day-long series of races drew $4.26M in wagers, compared with $5.6M last year. De Francis estimated there would be $6M in wagers Saturday (Thomas Heath, WASHINGTON POST, 5/18). USA TODAY's Rudy Martzke credits ABC Sports' Preakness Producer Curt Gowdy Jr for getting on the air with backup generators. ABC's overnight rating was a 4.1, down 23% from last year (USA TODAY, 5/18). QUIET RIOT: In N.Y., Ray Kerrison said that fans "suffered the worst afternoon imaginable" and criticized management for lacking a backup plan in regards to the power failure (N.Y. POST. 5/17). Kerrison writes today that the "bottom line is that Pimlico went to the edge of a potential human disaster of great magnitude without, even now, acknowledging its appalling abdication of responsibility" (N.Y. POST, 5/18). Temperatures Saturday were in the 90s, and spectator Pat Coyne, who drove to MD from Philadelphia, said, "It's like Calcutta out here" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/17). NOT SO QUIET: NTRA Commissioner Tim Smith was the "Guest Columnist" in Sunday's N.Y. DAILY NEWS and touted the new centralized marketing and TV programs launched to increase awareness of thoroughbred racing. Smith, concluded his column: "If cigars, martinis and the Volkswagen Beetle can come back, why not horse racing?" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/17). But in N.Y., Joe Durso questions some of the NTRA's efforts and wonders, "[W]hen the business falls upon hard times, why play down the stars in the cast and the suspense in the scenario? Why hitch your wagon to an advertising campaign that leaves horses out of the picture but features a woman [actress Lori Petty] running up and down the sideline shrieking for a pony to cover her bet. ... The caricature neither looks or sounds believable, and neither does racing's movement to save itself in spite of its heroes." Durso also says that Smith "knows little about the product: horse racing" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/18).