New GM has the ideas, but will they get done?

August 01, 1993|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

A "Best Bodies" contest at Pimlico?

The first swimming of the "Ken-Ducky Derby" in the infield lake at Laurel?

These are some of the crazy marketing ideas that were tried out at Delaware Park and at least gave the track some vibrancy during the tenure there of John E. Mooney, the track's general manager, who came to be known as "Mr. Delaware Park."

Today is Mooney's first day at work on his new job -- taking over as general manager at Laurel and Pimlico.

What can Maryland fans expect?

Can he produce the same sort of relaxed, fun atmosphere here with a far superior racing card than he did 60 miles up the interstate?

Jerry Toulas is a racing fan who lives in Sparks in Baltimore County, which is closer to Pimlico than Delaware Park.

But when this writer randomly talked to fans on Delaware Handicap Day a couple of weeks ago, Toulas said he prefers going to Delaware Park even though the fields are made up mostly of cheap claimers and there is a race a day for Arabians. He summed up, in a few words, what a lot of other folks said: "It's a nice, friendly place to be."

Have you ever heard that said at Laurel or Pimlico except when it came from an out-of-state stakes owner or trainer that was being wined and dined by management?

Equine photographer Lydia Williams was almost in a state of shock when a Delaware guard offered her his program when she asked him where she might buy one.

"And did you see the chairs in front of the TV [simulcasting] sets?" Williams said. "They looked like they came from somebody's living room."

To be sure, Delaware Park is not paradise. And the track has its share of problems. But in the area of customer courtesy and developing a relationship with its clientele, Laurel/Pimlico management can learn quite a few things from Mooney.

The question is: Will they listen and, more importantly, will anything get done?

Vice president of racing Lenny Hale has been on the job six months and simple backstretch plans like having trainers at Laurel paint their own barns -- which they have willingly agreed to do -- haven't even been started.

Will Mooney have the free rein he needs to make the changes he thinks need to be made?

The proof will come in a few months when we see exactly how many Jerry Toulases he can bring back to Maryland's tracks.

Greetings from Laurel

The 2-year-old filly Softly Is The Nite makes her second career start today in the third race.

But it's sad -- if you like the game and want to see it prosper -- to hear owner Bob Rafajko talk about the filly's Laurel debut a couple of weeks ago.

It's not that anything terrible happened to the daughter of Ruthie's Native. She finished third, was beaten by less than two lengths and takes a jump up in class today.

And nothing really wicked happened to Rafajko, unless you multiply the treatment he receives as an owner and then begin to understand why no one any longer wants to own racehorses.

Rafajko is no racing neophyte. He lives in Potomac, owns his own business, has raced horses for 13 years and pays the board and training bills at Maryland tracks and breeding farms on 20 horses, including five broodmares, their young offspring

and five 2-year-olds that he has stabled with Laurel's leading trainer, Dale Capuano.

Anyway, here's Rafajko's Laurel experience:

He, his wife, Ann, and her friend, Jane, who has never been to the track before, arrive at the owners' gate. They have passes that allow them in, but because Rafajko does not have his Maryland track owners' ID badge -- similar to a reporter's press card -- he is not given a free program.

"Those are the rules," the attendant says.

So Rafajko shells out the $1.50 for the program. Wife Ann is wondering -- she sees the quite large checks her husband writes out every month to horse vendors and tradesmen -- and thinks, NTC "Do we even have to pay for a program?"

The Rafajko party then decides to get a hamburger -- only it's a half hour before the first race and the hamburger stand attendant says the food isn't cooked yet.

How about a beer? A new keg has been tapped at the first-floor bar and only foam is available. To get a beer, you have to go to the second floor, a bartender says.

"I don't want to make a big deal out of this. In a way, it's almost comical. And we're just talking about little things," Rafajko said. "But I can go to Charles Town. The guy at the gate says, 'Gee, Mr. Rafajko it's good to see you' and I walk in the racing secretary's office and can get a couple of free programs if I want them."

Racetrack owners wonder why there's a horse shortage. Someone's got to pay the staggering bills for the horses that fill the races.

It's not the track owners who do it, but the horse owners. But if the game is not even fun for these people, what's the point?

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