Maryland Million takes financial hit State's horsemen withdraw support over lack of input

July 16, 1993|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

Less than three months before its Oct. 9 running, the Maryland Million has lost one its largest contributors.

It is the state's own horsemen.

At the July 6 board meeting of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the organization's board of directors voted unanimously -- 10-0 with two abstentions -- to withdraw its financial support of the popular one-day race program because they say the state's owners and trainers have little or no say in conditions of the 12 races.

"They can either ignore us or they can take our money, but they can't do both," said MTHA board member Jerry Robb, one of the state's winningest Maryland Million trainers.

Since its inception eight years ago, the horsemen have contributed their portion of the day's betting proceeds, which amounts to between $170,000 and $200,000 annually, to help fund purses and expenses for the card.

Changes were made to this year's program, including lengthening the 2-year-old races from six to seven furlongs, board members said, without full consultation with the MTHA, which represents the state's owners and trainers.

"What I object to is that until people on the backstretch read this newspaper article, they won't have any idea that these changes have been made and a lot of them will be shocked. Heck, I don't even know what all of them are," Robb said.

"They might seem like minor changes, but they are major ones to owners and trainers who either point their horses all year to the Maryland Million or buy them specifically with the purpose of running in the races."

Said board member Frannie Campitelli: "These changes are made by a close-knit group and we're just now finding out what they are."

In a letter sent to MTHA and Maryland Million board members dated July 12, Maryland Million president Roger Schipke listed these changes:

* In addition to lengthening the 2-year-old races from six to seven furlongs, the Classic has been shortened this year from 1 1/4 to 1 3/16 miles.

* Last year's inaugural maiden turf race is now a juvenile turf.

* Weight allowances have been made fairer.

* The steeplechase is now carded for 3-year-olds and up instead of 4-year-olds and up.

Another change that is not stated in the letter, Robb said, is switching the starter handicap eligibility from $16,000 claiming to $14,500 claiming, which could eliminate some horses.

He added that "everyone on our board thinks the Maryland Million is great. This move was not done to hurt the race card, but to show them [the Maryland Million committee] that they are hurting some of their own races. The vote was taken not solely to withdraw the money, but to send them a message: 'They should be seeking our help and suggestions.' Unfortunately, it looks like it's turning into a grudge match."

Katharine Voss, secretary-treasurer of the Maryland Million Committee, said yesterday that two MTHA representatives, vice president Ferris Allen and executive secretary Wayne Wright, were at a May 27 Maryland Million Race Day committee meeting when the changes were discussed.

"They [the MTHA] were properly represented," Voss said. "No one raised objections to the changes and there was a pretty strong consensus they should be made."

Wright said yesterday that he voiced objections, but was ignored.

Voss added that the Maryland Million has been moved back to Laurel Race Course this year after a four-year run at Pimlico. "The last time the Maryland Million was run at Laurel [in 1988], the 2-year-old races were seven furlongs," she said.

Even though the 2-year-old races at six furlongs drew a couple of more horses (a total of 22 in 1992 and 21 in 1991 compared with a total of 19 at Laurel in 1988), a quick look at the record book shows no huge difference in field size.

"I think they [the MTHA] are acting irresponsibly and holding the whole program hostage because of some person's whim," Voss said.

Schipke said the Maryland Million will be run Oct. 9 with or without the horsemen's money.

"What happens depends on our sponsorship packages in the last 60 days [before the event] and they seem to be going well," Schipke said. "Whether or not losing the horsemen's [financial] support jeopardizes us in the long run, I don't know."

He added that a stipulation in the Maryland Million rules allows for the committee to make any changes it sees fit.

"It seems there are a lot of cliques in the horse industry that have their own agenda," Schipke said. "You'd think that with all the problems the industry faces, especially with something like the Maryland Million which has been such a success, everyone would pull together."

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