Burroughs' anecdotes add spice of life to church, backstretch and paddock

HORSE RACING NOTEBOOK

January 26, 1992|By Ross Peddicord

Raleigh Burroughs is a funny man, short and bespectacled, who has made a living making wisecracks and telling witty anecdotes about horse racing.

He is sort of a cross between a Bennet Cerf and George Burns of the backstretch, except he's not quite as old as Burns and doesn't smoke cigars.

Burroughs made one of his rare appearances at Laurel this weekend. Rare for a good reason. He's 90, and doesn't stray much anymore from his retirement home in Florida.

Ostensibly, he was here to present the trophy in a race with a long-winded name -- the Maryland Racing Writers' Handicap, which vies with the Japan Racing Association Handicap for the breadth of its title.

Burroughs was picked to present the trophy, former writer Snowden Carter said, "because all of the other charter members are dead."

The organization was founded 55 years ago at Havre de Grace, and most people don't even recall that town had a racetrack.

When phoned the other night, Burroughs said he had just gotten back from taking a busload of neighbors to Tampa Bay Downs, "where there are more maidens on the program than there are in the Bible."

At his advanced age, Burroughs has gotten religion. He writes for the church bulletin as well as the Florida Horse magazine. It's an odd topical mix, he admits, but who else would suggest Saint Paul would be a better person to head Hialeah than John Brunetti?

"I told the minister I hadn't been to church in weeks, 4,720 weeks to be exact," he said. "I had to learn all over again when to stand up and when to sit down."

Burroughs edited the Baltimore-based Turf And Sport Digest for 19 years and the Maryland Horse magazine for five years. "I regarded that job as sort of an interval type of thing," he said.

He remembers the glory days of Maryland racing, when things were a little less regulated, particularly a leading trainer who once put a snake down a horse's throat to make it run faster.

"The man came in the paddock, stuck his hand in his pocket and then shoved a ringling snake down the horse's throat," Burroughs said. "Naturally, the horse started acting up and jumped around in the post parade.

"But when they reached the top of stretch, he was nine in front.

"All of a sudden, the horse stopped.

"The trainer leaned over and told me, 'The snake just died. If I can get a snake to live six furlongs, I've got this game licked!' "

True story, Burroughs swears. But one you probably never would read in the "Fireside Book of Horse Racing."

Familiar face: If you're a racing fan and think you see a familiar face around the track, it might be Tom Lattanzi.

Lattanzi was once a weekend sports anchor for Channel 11. "Third in line," he said, "behind Vince Bagli and Chris Thomas."

Joe De Francis hired Lattanzi two weeks ago to head group sales and to improve customer relations.

His official title is director of sales and corporate relations.

But most of his time is spent trying to think up creative ways to get more fans into the stands and please the customers who are already here.

"We're going to be doing some exciting things," he said. "One of these is to reach out to conventions and try to bring that convention trade here. Every week, between D.C. and Baltimore, thousands of people pass through town attending conventions. We should be getting some of them out to the races."

He also is contacting every person who drops a suggestion in the boxes put around the stands by the Maryland Racing Commission.

vTC "I'm writing a letter to each person who drops in a suggestion, and following some up with phone calls. We're going to start printing some suggestions in the program," he said. "The idea is to knuckle down and to care about the customer."

Lattanzi started his media career as a news reporter for WBAL Radio and also worked as a reporter for the Baltimore News-American.

Most recently, he was employed as a lobbyist for Crown Central Petroleum before being hired at the tracks. He also will be lobbying lawmakers in Annapolis for passage of an OTB bill.

*

Out to pasture: Concerned Maryland horse owners started the Greener Pastures retirement home for ex-racehorses about a year ago. There are now 14 horses in residence at the leased Hexton Farm facility near Chesapeake City.

But some horsemen believe in taking care of their own old campaigners. One such trainer is Lee Couchenour, who is based at Charles Town with about 20 head.

Couchenour ended up with the 10-year-old Maryland campaigner, Safe On Second, winner of 31 races, earner of more than $220,000 and half brother to champion Safely Kept. One problem: The horse had developed a tumor in his throat, and despite an operation, could no longer breathe well enough to run competitively.

Laurel racing official Georgeanne Hale had kept her eye on the horse's whereabouts, and when it looked as if his racing days were finished, called Couchenour and told him she knew someone who would love to give the horse a home.

That person turned out to be Viola Yourman, who had rubbed Safe On Second as a groom for four years when the horse was trained locally by Ron Alfano.

Last week, Couchenour put Safe On Second on the van with his stakes horse, High Degree, and delivered him to Yourman at Laurel, the day High Degree ran third in the Northern Wolf Handicap.

She now has turned him out at the farm of her father-in-law, Bert Yourman, in Upper Marlboro.

"I always hoped I'd get him back, but it was one of those things I thought might never really happen," Yourman said. "I had kept all his win pictures from when I rubbed him, and the brass name plate from his old halter. He's a lot furrier now, and his ankles are a little bigger. But he still looks terrific."

Couchenour had been offered $600 for the horse, but opted instead to give him to Yourman as a riding horse. "I was just glad to find someone that truly loved him," he said.

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