Big stories, big names marked '93

January 02, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

From Virginia Kelley to Jack Kent Cooke, Lenny Hale to John "Pappy" Poole, a lot of new names popped onto the Maryland racing scene in 1993.

The president's mother made not one, but two trips to Laurel Race Course, when she visited her son at the White House during his first year in office.

Cooke shocked a lot of people when, all of a sudden, Joe De Francis became his new best friend and he announced plans to build a $160 million stadium for his Washington Redskins football team on track property.

Who would have thought that after 26 years as a Maryland institution, director of racing Larry Abbundi would retire? He did in 1993, and one of the state's favorite racing sons, Lenny Hale, returned from senior management at New York Racing Association tracks to become Laurel/Pimlico vice president of racing.

Maryland's first off-track betting parlor opened in Urbana despite cries from local citizens that there would be gun battles in the parking lot. Overnight Poole went from being the proprietor of an aging Frederick County restaurant to the operator of the state's most successful OTB.

These were just some of the stories that made racing headlines in 1993, and I haven't yet mentioned the words "Russian roulette."

But just to jog your memory, here's a list of some of the important, and maybe not-so-important, racing stories of 1993:

* The world's most successful teen-age jockey announces retirement at age 19. That's right, after riding nearly 300 winners and earning about $3.5 million in purses, Charlie Fenwick quit riding in April to go back to school. It usually happens in reverse.

* On his way to riding a record 62 stakes victories in one year, Mike Smith not only won the Preakness, but the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes as well. It was a second straight Preakness win for John Ed Anthony's Loblolly Stable which won Maryland's biggest race in 1992 with Pine Bluff and then staged a repeat last year with Prairie Bayou. Anthony's Aztec Hill also won the 1993 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.

* D. Wayne Lukas came under attack in the media when a questionably sound Union City broke down and was destroyed in the Preakness. But now the Lukas in the news is his son, Jeff, who has been in a coma for more than two weeks after trying to flag down a runaway horse.

* In the bad news department, Union City was just one of probably more than two dozen racehorses to lose their lives on a Maryland track last year. Who can forget the morning electrocution of the 3-year-old gelding Fox Brush on April 1? The repercussions of that incident still are being felt in state racing circles.

In the good news department, owner Richard Blue went to extraordinary and costly lengths to save Root Boy after the horse broke down in the Maryland Million Classic. Root Boy survived a catastrophic breakdown nearly as severe as the one that cost Union City his life.

* What's happening at Pimlico in 1994? None of the management mistakes made in 1993. Both sides of the barn area are staying open for training this winter and the Pimlico Special is being moved back to its old date on the Saturday before the Preakness.

* "It's Hard To Imagine" Department: that the winner of the Dave's Friend and Dancing Count Stakes would run in the English Derby? That's exactly what happened in 1993. Wolfe Prince finished eighth in the Epsom classic. In the same vein, the probable Maryland-bred Horse of the Year, Valley Crossing, didn't win a stakes in the state during 1993.

* Who was the oldest jockey to win a Grade I race in Maryland last year? Jean Cruguet, who at 54, won the Washington D.C. International with Buckhar. In addition to Mike Smith's Preakness victory, Herb McCauley won the state's other Grade I with Devil His Due in the Pimlico Special.

* Lastly, but not leastly: After predicting in this space a year ago that the "Russian roulette" would not be triggered during 1993, guess what happened on Oct. 9? Either the Manfuso brothers or De Francis will ante up and own these tracks and their $40 million mortgage on Jan. 21.

Racing's unsung hero of 1993? Joseph H. H. Kaplan, chief administrative judge of the Baltimore City Circuit Court. He got these people to stop yelling at each other long enough last month to agree to a settlement so that possibly in 1994 racing can get back to the business of racing.

That Redskins connection

If Cooke doesn't build his stadium in Laurel, and moves to Virginia, can the Maryland Jockey Club be far behind?

The 250-acre plot of land near Dulles Airport in Loudoun County that Laurel/Pimlico reportedly has an option to buy happens to be adjacent to Cooke's proposed Virginia site for a Redskins stadium.

The site of the proposed track is now a sod farm and is located at the planned Exit 3 of a new Dulles Toll Road.

Although the Loudoun site is not confirmed, De Francis is expected to discuss the new location at a news conference tomorrow.

Canadians at Laurel

Barn 33 on the Laurel backstretch is getting to be known as "the Canadian barn."

Three Canadian trainers -- Rita Schnitzler, Mike Wright and George Bankuti -- are spending the winter here with a combined total of about 30 head.

So far, Schnitzler is the first to crack Laurel winner's circle, sending out two winners -- including Whiskeys Benedict -- on Friday's card.

According to Schnitzler, the Canadian contingent was amused last week when the Laurel jockeys canceled riding after two races during some snowfall. "To Canadians, that kind of weather seems pretty mild," Schnitzler said.

Schnitzler said that last year during the winter she divided her claiming stable and sent horses to King Leatherbury in Maryland, Michael Hushion in New York and Mike Tammaro in Kentucky.

"But this year, instead of taking a three-month break, I thought I'd stay in action and keep the stable together," she said.

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