What Hubbard offers is debatable

January 16, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

What can Maryland fans and horsemen expect if California track operator R. D. Hubbard takes control of Laurel and Pimlico race courses?

Under the agreement now being worked out between current operator Joe De Francis and Hollywood Park, De Francis would stay as president and chief executive officer of Laurel/Pimlico if the Hubbard-led group buys 80 percent equity of the track. But control would be relinquished because a three-person voting board, comprising Hubbard, De Francis and a person to be chosen by Hollywood Park, would make major decisions.

Essentially, Hubbard would run the Maryland tracks, even if headquartered in California. What Hubbard would offer Maryland depends on whom you talk to.

Racing writers in Los Angeles say Hubbard is a big bettor, knows what fans want and will insist the Maryland tracks become fan friendlier and more comfortable. They also say Hubbard will improve the tracks and fix up dilapidated buildings.

But Hubbard gets mixed reviews in his dealings with horsemen and legislators.

"He has been counterproductive in the state capital," said Brian Sweeney, executive director of the California Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. Hubbard also has had tempestuous relations with horsemen, who have split into two groups and are fighting among themselves.

The HBPA staged a strike at Hollywood Park when the track instituted Friday twilight cards, and it has opposed the card club Hubbard is building at Hollywood.

That doesn't necessarily worry Richard Hoffberger, president of the the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

"There are different problems in California than there are here, and, to a certain extent, we're in a better situation. Our horsemen are protected by state laws, mainly by the 50-50 revenue split that we have with management," Hoffberger said. "Horsemen in other states don't have those kinds of laws.

"But, obviously, it's better to have local ownership in local sports, matter what it is, baseball, ice hockey or horse racing. And I think a majority of horsemen would prefer in-state owners. There are so many local issues," Hoffberger said.

John H. "Jack" Mosner Jr., former chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission and current board member, said: "I don't know much about Mr. Hubbard. But I read a statement he made last week in the Blood-Horse Magazine, and he said the racing industry spends too much time looking at problems instead of finding solutions. To me that made a lot of sense. He put a lot of money into Hollywood Park after he took control, and that place seems to be a success. So, I think Hubbard coming in here could be a positive thing."

John McDaniel, current commission chairman, echoed Mosner's sentiments. "I haven't seen the details of the deal," he said. "The issue confronting our board would be primarily what kind of long-term commitment an out-of-state owner would make to Maryland racing.

"On balance, I'd say Hubbard coming here would be a good move. He's resourceful. He has a good track record. He has access to capital, and he's customer-oriented."

Maryland Eclipse connections

The Eclipse Awards, year-end honors for the nation's best equine and human performers in 1993, will be announced Thursday in New York.

Votes are cast by members of the National Turf Writers Association, staff members of the Daily Racing Form and racing secretaries at the nation's leading tracks.

Although it's likely that no Maryland-breds or Maryland-based horses will win, it's quite possible that two divisional champions and even the Horse of the Year were animals that competed last year before the local fans at Pimlico.

The divisional champs could be Prairie Bayou among the 3-year-old colts and geldings and Lure, perhaps the best turf male performer, who also could win the Horse of the Year title. Even though his career was cut short by a fatal injury in the Belmont Stakes, Preakness winner Prairie Bayou has the best overall and most consistent record among 3-year-old colts and geldings.

It's going to be a toss-up between Kotashaan and Lure in the male turf category. Whichever wins that division also will likely be Horse of the Year.

Kotashaan won five Grade I races in 1993, but all were in California.

Lure won one Grade I race, the Breeders' Cup Mile, but he won four other graded stakes and he shipped all over the country to perform, from New York to California and even made a stop at Pimlico in May when he won the Early Times Dixie Handicap.

Los Angeles Times racing writer Bill Christine took a look at the jurisdictions represented by the voters and found an overwhelming East Coast bias. His prediction? Lure will win Horse of the Year, although he thinks Kotashaan is the best runner.

There were seven Maryland-connected horses in the various categories. They were:

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