It might be called the Hunt Cup curse.
That's what has plagued the brilliant timber horse Von Csadek for the past few years.
He's won just about every major U.S. race over post-and-rail fences, and even a couple of important steeplechases in England.
But he's never won the Maryland Hunt Cup, despite two `D attempts.
4 Now at age 10, Von Csadek is going to try again.
The Maryland hunt racing season starts in Howard County in two weeks.
But it's unlikely Von Csadek will run there.
His trainer, Baltimore lawyer Douglas Worrall, said after a year off, Von Csadek should return at the My Lady's Manor races in Monkton on April 11.
In 1989 in his first Hunt Cup attempt, Von Csadek fell at the fourth fence. In 1990, he had about a 75-length lead and was en route to a record-setting performance when he refused to jump the 21st of 22 fences. The obstacle is the lowest jump on the course, a slanted board fence with a ditch in front.
"I guess you could say the Hunt Cup gods are against us," Worrall said. "He has won the Virginia Gold Cup twice, the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup twice, the My Lady's Manor race twice, the New Jersey Hunt Cup and the Middleburg Hunt Cup. But it's the Maryland Hunt Cup we want to win most, and it's the one win that's eluded us."
Last year, Von Csadek missed the race because of a fractured splint bone.
He recovered from that injury in time to race last fall, "but the
ground was too hard," Worrall said. "So we decided to wait until this spring."
The horse is strictly a Worrall family project. He is owned by Worrall and his wife, Margaret, and Margaret's uncle, D. Herbert Sheppard. The jockey is the Worrall's son, Patrick, 20, a student in the school of engineering at the University of Virginia.
"I'm not ruling out running Von Csadek in a prep before My Lady's Manor," Worrall said. "But I don't think he will need one. All he needs to do is get his eye and his rhythm back."
Worrall said he is concentrating on one other important aspect before this year's Hunt Cup start. "We're going to make sure he's had plenty of practice jumping a ditch," he said.
In addition to Von Csadek, horses such as previous Maryland Hunt Cup winner Uncle Merlin, runners-up J.R. Polynesian and Gesticulate, Joe's O.K., Cabral, Revelstoke, Pleasant Sea and Tingles Image are said to be in training and aiming for the big race April 25.
Beating the odds: Delaware Park opens for a 150-day season that extends from Saturday through Nov. 1.
So far, the track has survived head-on competition from Philadelphia and Garden State parks, but with the proliferation of off-track betting parlors in Pennsylvania and possibly Maryland, is there a future for the Stanton, Del., oval?
The closest OTB parlor is now in Upper Darby, Pa., about 38 miles away. But a new Pennsylvania parlor is planned for Chester, about 12 miles from the track.
And if the Maryland legislature approves OTB, there will likely be a parlor at Fair Hill, just seven miles from Delaware Park.
"We've been backed into a corner by everybody. But so far, it seems our fans still prefer live racing to the OTBs," said the track's marketing director, Steve Kallens. "We were the one track in the Mid-Atlantic region that actually showed an increase in business last year. And we did it with a low marketing budget. I read that the Maryland tracks spend about $5.5 million on marketing programs. Last year, Delaware Park spent $400,000, including employee salaries in the marketing department."
Kallens said Delaware will offer a complete Equibase Past Performance program, listing 10 complete past performance lines for each horse in the daily program. The track also is continuing to offer Arabian racing.
"The Arabian market might be taking off," Kallens said. "When Armand Hammer was still alive, he almost had a corner on the Arabian market. But now the Saudi Arabians are showing interest and have bought several quality Arabian racehorses. In fact, in a few weeks, some of our Arabian runners are leaving to race in Saudi Arabia, and then will return to run at Delaware."
The Delaware Handicap has been increased $50,000 in purse size and will be $150,000 this year. The date is Sunday, July 19, a month after Pimlico debuts its new $250,000 Pimlico Distaff stakes.
Togetherness: One of the benefits of working together on the off-track betting bill has been the establishment of the Maryland Horse Coalition.
The group consists of representatives from Laurel, Pimlico, Rosecroft and Delmarva racetracks as well as the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the Cloverleaf harness horsemen's organization and the thoroughbred and Standardbred breeders associations. The coalition has met in Annapolis every Monday since the OTB bill was introduced in the state Senate.
Now the group is planning to continue to meet after the OTB question is settled to work on other problems in the industry.
"We've been able to air and iron out a lot of differences at these meetings," said Alan Foreman, counsel for the MTHA and Cloverleaf. "We won't meet as often, but there will still be periodic meetings throughout the year. It's a real positive step for the industry."
The Maryland Racing Commission also is acting on a suggestion Foreman made to the board's chairman, John H. Mosner Jr., last year.
The commission has established a task force to explore different ways to promote the industry, attract new owners into the horse business and keep current owners from leaving.
The committee is chaired by commission member John McDaniel and meets for the first time tomorrow at 8 a.m. at Laurel.
There were approximately 3,600 licensed thoroughbred owners in the state last year, a 200-owner decrease from 1990.