The 5-year-old mare Accorte won the first race yesterday on the opening card at Pimlico Race Course.
Except, officially, it wasn't a race.
It was a fiasco.
Five of the seven horses had been loaded into the gate when the doors prematurely flung open.
The bell didn't ring.
The announcer didn't yell, "They're off!"
Starter Eric Blind was as stunned as anyone.
He had the electric handle that he squeezes to start the race in the palm of his hand. But he said he never squeezed it.
He said that the starting mechanism may have been triggered by malfunctioning electrical equipment, perhaps caused by yesterday's rain.
"I saw two jockeys, Joe Rocco and Tommy Turner, look at each other. They they both went to riding," Blind said.
The five horses came out of the gate and ran at least a quarter of a mile before three of the jockeys pulled up their mounts during some stage of the bogus race.
A sixth horse, I'm No Bargain, was just starting to be loaded in the gate when the malfunction occurred. She just about ran over assistant starter Bruce Naylor, who scrambled out the front of the gate just ahead of the charging animal.
Naylor was uninjured, Blind said.
The other horse, favored P.P. Dancer, was behind the gate, waiting to be loaded, and missed the fracas.
Meanwhile, Rocco, on Pretty Miss Mass, and Turner, on Accorte, raced as a team to the wire until Accorte pulled ahead.
Donna Donovan, wife of Accorte's trainer, Bill Donovan, said, "Now I'm going to have to call the mare's owner, Henry Rosenberg, and tell him his horse won. But she didn't win."
The stewards, who had punched the "Inquiry" button almost immediately after the false start, declared the race a "no contest."
The track refunded $136,000 that had been bet on the race and the Daily Double, which was cancelled.
"We had extra mutuel clerks on standby since it was opening day and we expected a big crowd," said general manager Jim Mango. From the grandstand money room, he looked at seven television monitors that showed long lines in front of the betting windows as patrons redeemed their tickets.
"Normally, you cash 15 per cent of the tickets purchased in a race. We had to refund 100 percent of them," he said. Thirty extra clerks were added to the mutuel line. By the third race, things were almost back to normal.
Mango said the track will investigate the incident.
Blind, who has been starting Maryland races for 12 years, said he had never been involved with such a malfunction.
After the race, Blind changed the electrical cord which connects the starter to the gate. The rest of the eight races started normally.
In the featured Politely Stakes, only six fillies competed. Three were scratched, most notably the undefeated Darinka.
"I didn't want to run her in the slop," trainer Mert Bailes said. "She had won in the slop eight days ago, and I didn't want to run her back so soon on a wet track."
The $50,000 Maryland-bred race was won by 8-5 favorite Jazzy One.
She stalked pace-setter, Share My Shelter, caught her at the sixteenth pole and drew off to a three-length victory.
Trainer Bob Camac was not at the race, but his assistant, Gwen Rynkiewicz, said the filly would be kept in Maryland-bred stakes company. "There are a lot of opportunities for her this year," she said.
It was the second stakes victory in six starts for the daughter of Horatius and increased her earnings to $82,135.
The filly was bred by Thornmar Farm near Chestertown and sold by the farm's owners, Charles and Cynthia McGinnes, to Anthony Morash as a three-month-old suckling for $10,000.
NOTES: The price of the Daily Racing Form is expected to be increased to $2.85 on April 6, according to a letter that has been received by the management at some tracks. It now sells for $2.50. The announcement is expected to be made by the paper's publisher on Monday. . . . America The Free was not entered in the Cherry Hill Mile. Instead, the horse's new owner, the Clover Racing Stable, shipped him to California last weekend where he joined the string of trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The colt could start next in the California Derby on April 11. . . . Trainer Carlos Garcia said his colt Western Miner "did not run his race" in the recent Swift Stakes at Aqueduct and will try the New York 3-year-old in the upcoming Gotham Stakes. . . . Pimlico will hold it's first "Town Meeting" on April 4 at 11:30 a.m. The forum is held so track management can listen to fan suggestions. . . . Eric Blind started his first race at Marlboro Race Course in 1965, and was a starter at Delaware and Narragansett parks before he began starting Maryland races in 1980.