If you're a racing fan, surely you've noticed the dramatic changes Daily Racing Form has undergone recently.
There's reason for the spruced-up format the paper has introduced: Competition is on the horizon. This time, says the competition, it is serious about taking away a significant portion of the Form's monopoly on past performances.
The Racing Times, which is scheduled to be sold in Maryland and other major racing markets before the Kentucky Derby in early May, is preparing for past-performance war on the Form. The New York-based paper, backed by the long-term commitment and deep pockets of Englishman Robert Maxwell, has assembled a talented staff of racing writers and handicappers throughout North America.
"This will be the best past-performance paper to ever be marketed," promised senior editor Irwin Cohen. "It will have a familiar format and it will be easy to read. But it will also contain the wish list that handicappers want but have never had."
The paper will sell for $2.50, same as the Form.
In the mid-1980s, Sports Eye posed a legitimate challenge to the Form's domination before an eventual court settlement dissolved Sports Eye. "The commitment is much deeper this time," said Cohen, "and the quality of the personnel is much different. The ideas generated by these people will be the qualitative difference."
Racing Times has a PP data base going back several years; it bought the information from defunct Figs Form, which made a brief entry into the market two years ago. Still unclear is whether Racing Times will buy data from Equibase -- a PP-composing venture sponsored by the Jockey Club and ownership at most of the nation's racetracks -- although sources say a deal is imminent.
The addition of Equibase, and what role it will play, in the oncoming scramble may make Racing Times' introduction seem somewhat untimely -- especially if Equibase becomes a third competitor by marketing an all-in-one PP-program format, as is commonly used at harness tracks.
Whatever happens, horseplayers stand to benefit -- if only because competition will yield a better product, no matter who's doing the publishing.
Superior Blend, a mare owned by Phil Capuano, foaled a filly early Thursday morning, just hours after the U.S. began air raids in the Persian Gulf.
Capuano said he will submit an appropriate name for the filly: Desert Storm.
A production crew for CBS' "Sunday Morning" was at Laurel Race Course and Jim Ryan's Mount Airy farm last week, taping footage for a segment on Ryan's heroic involvement in racing.
A counseling and drug rehabilitation program for backstretch employees at 54 tracks was begun by his Ryan Family Foundation in 1989. Ryan has contributed more than $2 million to the program.
During the CBS interview, Ryan revealed blueprints for modular dormitory housing for potential use on backstretches at tracks across the country.
@4 The feature is scheduled to be aired next month.
While Ben Perkins Jr. tends to a stable of about 20 runners in Maryland, his father, Ben Sr., is busy with about 15 horses at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla.
Good Scout, a colt who won his career debut by 11 lengths at Laurel in December, made his second start last week at Gulfstream. The 3-year-old was impressive again, winning an allowance race by two lengths and running six furlongs in 1 minute, 9 4/5 seconds.
However, young Ben doesn't necessarily believe Good Scout is his top hope for the spring classics. Ben Sr. has an unraced colt named Blue Wolf at Gulfstream, and the Perkinses say he might be even better.
With Garden State Park in Cherry Hill, N.J., scheduled to begin its four-month meeting Jan. 31, there is concern for the future of racing in the Delaware Valley area.
Philadelphia Park is racing year-round in 1991, meaning there will be a conflict in dates with nearby Garden State for the first time since the mid-1970s, when old Liberty Bell clashed with Garden State.
For both tracks, the situation means a further saturation of an over-saturated market, fierce competition for horses and an overall weakening of both tracks -- complicating the problems they are experiencing.
"The whole thing is impossible," said one reporter who covers both tracks. "It's going to be disastrous."