Legislative activity for the racing industry heats up in Annapolis this week with hearings starting Thursday on off-track betting.
The name that seems to be cropping up most frequently in all the pre-hearing chatter is that of Ethel Murray, who is considered by some highly placed racing officials as a gadfly and a thorn in the racing industry's side.
Some harness breeders and horsemen, however, see the 10-year delegate from Cecil County as their lone legislative representative, the person to look out for their rights -- and their pocketbooks -- while the projected proceeds from OTB are divided in Annapolis.
Murray has first-hand knowledge of the sport. Her husband, Jack, owns standardbreds.
"The standardbred people don't wield as big a stick as the thoroughbred people," she said.
Murray wants a tight OTB bill that would specify what horsemen may have to pay in running OTB outlets and what they can expect to reap. But the self-described maverick says everybody else wants a looser bill, with those areas left open. "That's like buying a horse you never brought out of the stable," she said.
On Friday, after Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Prince George's, introduced his OTB bill, Murray introduced her legislation in the House of Delegates.
Murray said she fears that simulcasting could some day take the place of live racing, so her bill would require that the
thoroughbred and harness tracks run a specific number of live races each day.
The harness horsemen have already signed contracts with the management of Rosecroft Raceway and Delmarva Downs that stipulate 200 nights of racing per year at Rosecroft and 75 nights at Delmarva, and that 10 races will be run each night. On the thoroughbred side, the horsemen have an agreement which stipulates 50 live races will be run each week.
The tracks and representative horsemen organizations want the specific number of races left open to negotiation and not legislation, since there might be a shortage of horses, certain races don't fill or certain dates might be lost because of bad weather.
However, that's not good enough for Murray. She tried to get her points incorporated into the industry bill that was introduced in the Senate, but failed. So she introduced her own bill.
"I'm a a sore loser," she said.
Industry officials aren't taking her seriously, although she will meet with the Maryland Horse Coalition in Annapolis tomorrow at an OTB conference and plans to testify at the OTB hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday.
"We will reach common ground," she predicted, "although we might take different paths to get there."
However, an industry official close to the legislative action said: "People are getting tired of Ethel. Fortunately she doesn't carry a lot of drag in Annapolis, except she's an anchor."
Not many Maryland breeders have ever bred a winner of an Eclipse Award.
Jim Ryan comes to mind, and David Hayden, who bred last year's sprint champion, Safely Kept.
One Marylander who achieved that honor yesterday is Carl Freeman, who lives near the little village of Sunshine in Montgomery County.
Freeman owns Tusculum Farm and has been breeding horses there for about 20 years.
He is the breeder of Miss Alleged, surprise winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf and Champion Turf Mare.
However, Miss Alleged was foaled in Kentucky, where Freeman boards her dam, Miss Tusculum. Miss Tusculum is 21 years old, and was one of the first horses Freeman bought when he got into the business. He had purchased her in partnership with Frank Bonsal Jr. as a yearling at Keeneland. It was Bonsal who picked her out.
Miss Tusculum broke down before she ever ran and Freeman subsequently bought out Bonsal's interest. For Freeman, Miss Tusculum has produced four stakes horses, and now a champion.
Freeman, who sold Miss Alleged as a yearling, didn't attend the awards ceremony in Las Vegas. He's vacationing in Caneel Bay.
Who is the person picking all the winners on Laurel's closed-circuit TV system?
She's Kim Goodwin, 24, the first graduate of the Equine Industry School at the University of Louisville.
Goodwin is a self-described racing fanatic who has worked in Laurel's marketing department for more than two years. When in-house handicapper Doug Vair was laid off a couple of months ago, Goodwin took over.
"At first, people wanted to know what could a young, blonde female know about racing," she said. "Now some people stop me and ask my opinion."
Goodwin said her best day came on Thanksgiving, when she picked six winners from 10 races.
"It's a lot of pressure because I want to do well," she said. "I like to pick winners, but what I really try to do is give the public a fair assessment of a race and how it might set up."
Goodwin, who is from Flemingsburg, Ky., worked as a mutuel clerk for four years while she was in college and has visited 26 racetracks.