At Laurel, they're doing the continental HORSE RACING

October 11, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

When an Air France "combee" (combination cargo and passenger plane) lands at Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia on Tuesday, it will be carrying about 15 or 16 French racehorses.

They are arriving en masse, along with a few Irish and English horses today and tomorrow, to comprise the largest contingent of European horses to run in Laurel's International Turf Festival, to be this next weekend.

When 70 preliminary entries were made last week, nearly a third (22) were French. Another eight were English or Irish, meaning that almost half of the animals running at Laurel in the five Festival races could be carrying form from Longchamps, Leopardstown or Lingfield.

"It's as good a concentration of foreign horses that have ever run at one time at a U.S. track," said Tim Capps, vice president of racing at Laurel. There are more foreign horses that race here than at the Breeders' Cup, Hollywood Park's Autumn Festival or the Arlington Million, he said.

"None of us had to go over there hat-in-hand to recruit them," said track operator Joe De Francis. "Tim visited French stables last year, and I joined him in England and Ireland. But, this year, everything was handled by agents."

Why is Laurel so popular with the Europeans?

First of all, they usually win. Last year, French-trained horses swept three of the five Turf Festival events. French horses were 1-2-3 in the Budweiser International, the French and Irish were 1-2-3 in the All Along Stakes and a French filly, Ken de Saron, won the Selima Stakes.

Capps said Laurel's accessibility -- direct flights are easily arranged from Paris to Dulles -- and generous purses appeal to the Europeans.

"Their racing industry is undergoing change and shake-up just like ours," Capps said. "There is a decline in purse money relative to training costs. What we're seeing is the continuation of the movement of European horses to the U.S. to run for bigger purses."

Some other Turf Festival items of interest:

* Willie Shoemaker could saddle his first Turf Festival entry as a trainer (Glen Kate in the Laurel Dash). During his riding career, Shoemaker never won the Budweiser International, but finished second on Damascus in 1967.

* For the first time in five years, there could be a Russian entry, Rezon. "We don't know who actually owns the horse and what flag we should fly if he does come," De Francis said. "Do we say it's a member of the Unified Team?"

* Two owners thought enough of their horses, Senor Tomas, the Super Derby winner, and Stark South, a California-based runner, to pay a $30,000 late nomination fee to run them in the Budweiser International.

Going, going, gone

The last parcel of property associated with the original Windfields Farm was sold at public auction last Saturday in Chesapeake City.

It included 10 acres and the mansion built by Windfields' late owner, E.P. Taylor.

Standardbred owner Joe Thomson purchased the brick Georgian home for $428,000. Earlier, Thomson had purchased the training and yearling divisions of Windfields and renamed the 300-acre plus property White Horse Farms.

Clint Rosenberger, agent for Patterson-Schwartz Realtors of Wilmington, Del., which handled the Windfields transactions, said 17 bidders registered to buy the last parcel.

It took nearly four years for the entire property -- about 2,500 acres -- to be disposed of into nine or 10 individual farms. The whole tract was originally purchased by a group of Taylor's neighbors, St. Augustine Associates, who wanted to preserve the rural nature of the area and placed the properties into a farmland preservation program.

Rosenberger said the group achieved its goal and "just about broke even" on the transactions.

Windfields was the home of Northern Dancer, the late, great thoroughbred foundation sire.

Legislator to the rescue

Delegate Bob Ehrlich Jr., from the 10th District of Baltimore County, is trying to ensure that the innovative equine rehabilitation program, proposed by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, is started at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School.

When talks stalled with TRF and the state's Department of Juvenile Services, Ehrlich hustled to arrange a meeting next month between TRF volunteers, officials of Rebound Corp. which runs the school, and Mary Ann Saar, secretary of the department.

TRF wants to duplicate the program for the teen-age residents at Hickey that has been so successful in New York with inmates of the Wallkill Correctional Facility.

Last Thursday, the board of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association voted to donate $5,000 to help TRF with the Hickey project. Rebound also increased the amount of money it will allocate to help fund the program, according to TRF president Monique Koehler.

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