The competition began on other fronts some two months ago. Now it has begun in Maryland, and with the Preakness out of the way, things should heat up between the Racing Times and Daily Racing Form.
There are many questions about the past-performance papers that concern both fans (i.e., potential readers) and industry insiders. The two most important seem to be: Does Racing Times, the challenger, decisively have to beat the Form, the champion, to stay in business? And what will Racing Times offer that the Form doesn't?
Robert Maxwell, who owns Racing Times, has made a long-term commitment -- at least five years, according to editor Steve Crist -- to keeping the paper going, regardless of cash flow. Tim Capps, a Pimlico Race Course vice president, said he expects the market for racing papers to grow just marginally on a national basis -- and to survive, Racing Times would have to capture roughly one-third of that market.
Racing Times' past-performance format, quite similar to that of the Form's, seems to have features that make it a superior product. Those features include more expansive "trouble lines," more detailed race conditions, Andrew Beyer's speed figures . . . generally, more information.
However, there are serious obstacles for the new paper. One is the lack of workouts, which could be resolved in the near future, after Racing Times' agreement with Equibase, its data collector, is finalized. Another is the glitches that normally would be expected with any new business.
"The thing is, the problems are fixable," said Crist. "We've had omissions. But no one has said, 'Oh, this was a terrible idea,' or 'Your format won't work' or anything like that. The response has been very favorable."
Today, Racing Times' Sunday edition will be given away at Pimlico and the Laurel intertrack outlet to patrons arriving early; the Tuesday edition will be given away to patrons leaving late. Otherwise, the paper will cost $2.50, same as the Form.
The Alibi Breakfast on the morning before the Preakness traditionally has been a crowded, electric sort of affair where the trainer or owner of every horse does a little joking and a little explaining about their horse's chances in the big race.
This year, however, the Alibi Breakfast was a letdown. Of the eight horses, only four trainers were there to speak. D. Wayne Lukas, Nick Zito, Rodney Rash and Frank Brothers were absent.
For the future, perhaps the importance of the breakfast will be stressed more heavily by track officials, and every starter, if at all possible, will be represented. The breakfast is too big an event to take a slide.
Belmont Park on Friday released a list of six non-Preakness horses believed to be pointing to the June 8 Belmont Stakes.
They are Green Alligator, Lost Mountain, Quintana, Scan, Subordinated Debt and the filly Lite Light.
Meanwhile, Tank, a talented Maryland-based colt, is out of consideration for the race.
"We've stopped on him," said the colt's trainer, Ben Perkins Jr. "He's always had shin problems and he has a very tiny fracture in his shin. I hope to have him back racing around September."
Only four favorites have won the past 36 Triple Crown events. They were Pleasant Colony (1981) and Alysheba (1987) in the Preakness, and Swale (1984) and Risen Star (1988) in the Belmont.
Cot Campbell, manager of the Dogwood Stable syndicate that owns 1990 Preakness winner Summer Squall, will be the guest speaker tomorrow night at a dinner of the Thoroughbred Club of Maryland.
Tickets for the dinner, which will be held at the Pimlico Restaurant, are $25.
David Hayden, owner of Dark Hollow Farm and breeder of Safely Kept, is excited about a half-brother to last year's champion Maryland-bred.
The weanling colt, bred by Dark Hollow, is by Private Account out of the mare Safely Home.
"He's a monster," said Hayden.