More complex issues concerning the relationship between television and Maryland racing will surface if off-track betting legislation is passed next year. But a more immediate concern to local racing fans is getting a better time slot to watch replays of races from Laurel and Pimlico race courses.
The current arrangement between Home Team Sports and the tracks expires at the end of the year, and representatives for both met recently to discuss a new contract. Jim Mango, Laurel/Pimlico vice president, said the tracks are trying to get a more attractive slot. Now, replays are shown the day after a race program, at 11 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on weekends. Those are prime times -- for driving to the track or taking care of business.
"That's the biggest complaint we receive from our patrons," said Mango. "We basically asked for a consistent and better time slot. There are several ways to go, and Joe [De Francis, the tracks' president] will have to make that decision soon. I expect we'll know what we're going to do in a week or so."
Mango said the tracks' options are: maintaining the same schedule; going to a different time slot, which would be significantly more costly to the tracks; or having the replays televised by another outlet.
Because HTS regularly telecasts games from major sports teams in the area, the ideal slot, Mango said, would be "around 6:30, before the games start." But there are serious logistical problems to such an arrangement, and it probably won't come about.
"We've enjoyed our relationship with HTS," said Mango. "There's been a lot of advantages to it.
"We realize how important a daily TV show is. Home Team Sports obviously has time constraints on how a daily racing show fits in, but they realize the potential that off-track betting might have. That has made racing a much more attractive product than they believed it to be before."
The Eclipse Award for turf female could be decided today at Hollywood Park in California. Kostroma, Fire the Groom and Sha Tha are among those entered in the 1 1/8 -mile Matriarch Stakes.
For Maryland's Miss Josh to win the Eclipse, a series of missteps would have to befall her rivals. Kostroma and Fire the Groom have to run poorly. Sha Tha, winner of the All Along Stakes at Laurel in her only U.S. start, can't win impressively. And Miss Alleged, upset winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf for her only triumph this year, cannot run a big race against males again when racing in the Hollywood Turf Cup on Dec. 15.
It's kind of like mapping out a way to get a 5-7 team into the NFL playoffs and on to the Super Bowl.
Spectacular Bid, 1980 Horse of the Year, is not the last Maryland-based horse to win an Eclipse Award -- but he is the last one to win one on "the flat." Inlander, trained by Charles Fenwick Jr., won the Eclipse for top steeplechase horse in 1987.
Little Bold John, surely the most popular local runner of the past five years, is recovering nicely from injury on owner/trainer Jerry Robb's Hidden Hill Farm.
Robb said he hopes a torn suspensory ligament in the gelding's left rear leg will have mended so that LBJ can return to training next spring. By then, LBJ will be 10.
"I can't believe how good he's doing," Robb said Friday.
The thinned apprentice jockey ranks in Maryland will get J.R. Parsley from Kentucky this week. Jockey agent Steve Elzey will book mounts for Parsley, 19.
Trainer Vinnie Blengs has made his annual trek to Florida. Among the new horses under his care there is Smelly, owned by Robert Watkins of College Park. Smelly won the Federico Tesio Stakes last year at 3, but his performances have been disappointing, largely because of injury.
Blengs leaves behind 28 horses at Laurel Race Course with his assistant, Eduardo Reyes, while overseeing the training of 14 at Gulfstream Park.
After today, the Pimlico Sports Palace will be closed indefinitely for intertrack wagering from Laurel because of a number of renovations in and around the room.
To accommodate patrons, the second-floor grandstand and clubhouse ground floor will be opened. Food service will be available in the Triple Crown room in the grandstand.