Hale saddles up to study tracks New racing chief wants cleaner barns

HORSE RACING

January 17, 1993|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

Lenny Hale, the new man in charge of the racing departments at Laurel and Pimlico, starts his day in an unusual way.

He conducts business on horseback.

Hale saddles up a 7-year-old ex-racehorse, named Hale the Tiger, and goes about seeing what's on the horsemen's minds in the stable area.

One morning last week, he visited starter Eric Blind at the gate, accompanied trainers Katy Voss and Gretchen Mobberley as they supervised sets from astride their ponies and talked to trainers Bud Delp, Hamilton Smith and Scott Regan.

"It's a great tool to get [to] know what's really happening," Hale said. "It's also amazing what you can see from horseback."

The next day, he hooked up his trailer and hauled his horse to the Bowie Training Center. The next morning was at Pimlico, but he left his horse at home. Hale rotates the schedule so he visits every track at least once a week.

After a week on the job, here are some of his observations:

* First three priorities -- name a new racing secretary, make plans for the barn areas, finish the stakes schedule for 1993.

* Nationally, Maryland has a reputation as a tough circuit, but it is also considered a shabby place for trainers to ship horses into. The barn areas: Bowie (excellent shape), Pimlico (new barns, excellent shape; old barns, "it's no secret they need help"), Laurel (new barns, excellent shape; old barns, "they need major surgery").

"At Laurel, the stable area needs a major clean-up. It's not just the track's job. It's also the trainers' responsibility," Hale said. "We need to restore pride and make the barn area a place where trainers are happy to bring their owners."

* Hale leaves today for a three-day trip to Virginia. He will touch base with a number of Virginians not only to discuss plans for Joe De Francis' proposed track in the Old Dominion, but also to convince owners with major national stables to send divisions to Maryland. The last week of January, while the track is closed for installation of new mutuels equipment, Hale goes to Florida to solicit stables heading north for the spring and summer.

De Francis said yesterday he appreciates Hale's frank comments.

"Two years ago, we divided all three stable areas up into 24 quadrants and went to work. Then, given the economy and down slide in business, we ran out of money.

"What I want Lenny to do is set up an advisory committee from all horsemen's groups to come up with an overall plan, not only to tackle problems in the Maryland stable areas, but also to eventually help design and maintain stabling for the track in Virginia.

"Until business turns around, recommendations for our current tracks have got to be economical and affordable. We have to do it in a way that everyone agrees to. I'll set a finite amount of money and we'll allocate it in the way the group suggests. Unfortunately, we don't have an inexhaustible supply of cash."

New housing

De Francis said that in cooperation with owner Jim Ryan, the Enterprise Corp. (a not-for-profit division of the Rouse Co.), state and county governments, the University of Maryland and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, new dormitories for stable employees will be built on land the track owns on Brock Bridge Road across from the Laurel stable area.

"It is a complicated joint venture," he said. "But it is going to become a reality. Plans are beginning to take shape [surveyors were on the site last week] and it will be started this year."

De Francis and Hale agree that problems will not be solved overnight. "But we are going to start. We need enthusiasm, leadership and a spirit of pulling together," Hale said.

More changes

In only a week's time, Laurel will be shut down for four days (Jan. 25-Jan. 28) so that mutuel systems at Laurel and Pimlico can be converted to the new Spectrum network, designed by AmTote International, Inc.

AmTote is moving its hub for the entire mutuels system of all Maryland tracks from its Hunt Valley location to a newly built facility on the first floor of the Laurel grandstand.

Track general manager Jim Mango said it cost about $25,000 to build the facility.

He led a reporter on a tour of the area last week as well as a new six-room complex built on the second floor of the grandstand, which houses offices and equipment for International Sound, Inc.

The company provides audio-visual equipment for the Maryland tracks. Included in the complex is a new television studio.

Mango said it will take three shifts of employees working 24-hour days to install the Spectrum equipment next week. The new machines will be installed at about 1,200 mutuels windows at

both tracks.

Eclipse Award

No Maryland horses are expected to win Eclipse Awards, emblematic of a year-end national championship.

But one Maryland man, Josh Pons of Bel Air, has received an Eclipse Award for magazine writing.

Pons' "Country Life Diary," which was originally published in the Blood-Horse Magazine and is now out in book form, provided the 38-year-old writer with his second Eclipse.

Pons also won in 1981 for another Blood-Horse article.

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