LAUREL -- Jim McKay anchors "Wide World of Sports" today from Gulfstream Park, where the Donn Handicap will be run.
It is just the sort of television coverage Barry Weisbord, founder of the American Championship Racing Series, envisioned when he started the string of races a year ago.
The principal story centers on a couple of last season's glamour 3-year-olds. One is Strike the Gold, who hasn't won a race since last year's Kentucky Derby.
The other is Fly So Free, a beaten Derby choice, who hasn't been out since finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic. The horse was attempting to win the Donn on workouts alone.
Except Fly So Free isn't cooperating.
The 4-year-old colt came down with a bacterial infection, his temperature went up, and about 2 p.m. yesterday, his trainer, Scotty Shulhofer, pulled him from the lineup.
"Naturally you hate to lose a horse like that," said Weisbord, who created the ACRS for older horses just like Strike the Gold and Fly So Free last year.
In just a year's time, the series -- which includes the Pimlico Special -- has become an established part of the national racing circuit and has earned a spot every three to four weeks on network television.
The Donn is the first stakes in the nine-race series, which ends Aug. 30 with the Pacific Classic at Del Mar race course.
Last year, the series ended with the Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park. "But we couldn't get the right date this year [for the Woodward]," Weisbord said. "We wanted an hour-long [television] show to end the series and we didn't want to go against pro football on a Sunday afternoon. So, we're ending the series at Del Mar, although there will still be a Woodward Stakes and it will still be run at Belmont Park."
Weisbord said he knew the ACRS series finally had arrived when Roxy Roxborough, a Las Vegas bookmaker, started taking advance bets on which horse would win the 1992 series.
"He's got In Excess, Twilight Agenda and Best Pal as the early favorites," Weisbord said.
None of those horses run in the Donn today, but are scheduled to start next in the Santa Anita Handicap.
"Not every horse can make every race," Weisbord said. "We were surprised last year when Farma Way made eight out of the 10 races. The idea is to have an event every 3 1/2 weeks, and get the race televised when football isn't on TV."
Last year a total of $52,437,755 was bet on the 10 races. A graduated series of points is awarded for each first through fifth placing. Whichever horse earns the most points wins a $750,000 bonus. Last year, Farma Way edged Festin for the bonus. Both horses are retired.
NOTES: Three trainers -- Eddie Gaudet, Howard Wolfendale and Frannie Campitelli -- scored doubles at Laurel yesterday. Gaudet won with Gaylord's Turn and Makin Money, in the fifth and eighth races, respectively; Wolfendale with Fate The Hunter and Sir Sprite (second and ninth races) and Campitelli with Kelli's Secret and Dancing Elite (first and sixth races). . . . More Paces will be heavily favored to win the Goss L. Stryker Stakes for Maryland-bred 3 year olds today. One of his main adversaries, Sticks And Bricks, opted to run in the Patriot Stakes at Philadelphia Park. The Pennsylvania race is at seven furlongs . . . Paul Nicol has returned from Finger Lakes Racetrack and just missed winning yesterday's first race with Gentle Is The Nite. . . . Maryland fans with long memories that look at the pedigrees of the Donn runners might remember the Maryland mare Cracker Bon Bon. She is the dam of Peanut Butter Onit. The mare was trained locally by Billy Boniface and was owned by Jan Taylor of Easton. Taylor said yesterday she had tried breeding the mare, but she refused to accept a stallion, which is something of a rarity. "So we put her back into training, and someone claimed her," Taylor said. Cracker Bon Bon eventually got in foal and has since produced several offspring. Peanut Butter Onit has earned over $475,000.
American Championship Racing Series schedule
G=Date .. .. Location .. .. .. .. .. Race .. .. .. .. ..Purse
Feb. 1 .. Gulfstream Park (ABC) .. The Donn Handicap .$500,000
March 7 .. Santa Anita Park (ABC) .Santa Anita .. .. .$1,000,000
April 11 .. Oaklawn Park (ESPN) .. Oaklawn Handicap ..$500,000
May 9 Pimlico Race Course (ESPN) The Pimlico Special $700,000
June 6 .. Belmont Park (ABC) .. .Nassau County Handicap
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... ... ... ... ... .. .. $500,000
June 27 ..Hollywood Park (ABC) ..Hollywood Gold Cup
.. .. .. .. ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .. $1,000,000
July 18 .. Rockingham Park (ABC) The New England Classic
.. ... .... ..... ...... ..... ..... .... .... ...$500,000
Aug. 8 .. Monmouth Park (ESPN) ..Philip H. Iselin Handicap
.... .... .... .... .... .... .... .... ..... ... $500,000
Aug. 30 ..Del Mar T'bred Club (ABC) Pacific Classic $1,000,000
American Championship Racing Series bonus . .. .. .$1,500,000
Total purse and bonus distribution .. .. . .. .. ..$4,700,000