The two-day nostalgic race meet at the half-mile Marlboro Racetrack in Upper Marlboro has been canceled this fall, perhaps for good.
Management of the Prince George's Equestrian Center, which operates the track in conjunction with its multimillion-dollar indoor arena and fairgrounds, recently notified its racing officials and citizens board by letter of the cancellation.
The meet, held on consecutive Wednesdays in October since 1988, was popular with the Southern Maryland horse community, which is bemoaning the loss.
Two enormous tents were erected on the site of the track's former grandstand, which had been leveled by fire, after the tiny facility had been shut down for several years.
Nationally known announcer Dave Johnson regularly came in to call the races and such well-known runners as Sunny Sunrise and Baldski's Choice would ship in from the mile tracks to run in the so-called "Marlboro Cup."
"It's too bad this had to happen, because everybody in the community looks forward to the races," said Marilyn Ketts, a longtime official and supporter of the project.
But Paul Lundberg, public relations director at the center, said handle has dwindled 17 percent in the last few years and the new indoor center has now generated so much activity that the board felt the races "had served their purpose.
"When we began the project back in 1988, there really was nothing on this site," Lundberg said. "It was decided that the two days of racing would be a great promotional vehicle to stimulate horse activity here. It certainly did, but a lot has changed in the horse racing industry since that time. As we roll into 1994, we don't have the capability of offering full-card simulcasting and we aren't tied into the state's off-track betting network, which is something the state's other half-mile track, Timonium, recently decided to do. They found out this is something that the betting consumer in the 1990s wants."
Lundberg said the cancellation is only for this fall and could change next year. Ketts said citizens interested in running the races were given the opportunity to rent the facility and conduct the race meet this year, but decided it was too time-consuming.
Lundberg added that the track will remain open year-round for training and that there are between 60 and 70 horses stabled on the grounds who use the facility.
Brass Scale skips Travers
The $750,000 Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday is being billed as "the race of the year."
It pits Preakness-Belmont winner Tabasco Cat against Holy Bull in a battle for the 3-year-old title. The two will not meet in the Nov. 5 Breeders' Cup Classic since Holy Bull is not eligible for the Breeders' Cup race.
The Travers was going to have a local entrant, Bayard Sharp's Brass Scale, a late-developing 3-year-old who beat older horses in his last start in the Broad Brush Stakes at Pimlico.
But trainer Charlie Peoples said Brass Scale came down with a temperature last week and missed a couple of days of training. "That's not how you want to go into a race like the Travers," Peoples said.
So, he is now considering running the colt next month in the Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park.
"We didn't necessarily think we'd win the Travers," Peoples said. "But we thought we could get part of it and that the horse deserved a chance to run with horses like Holy Bull and Tabasco Cat, since he won the Broad Brush in fast time [9 furlongs in 1 minute, 47 seconds] and beat older horses."
In addition to Holy Bull and Tabasco Cat, the Travers could attract Unaccounted For, Party Manners, Danville and Kandaly.
The Donovans' new star
Trainer Bill Donovan, who developed such horses as Lost Code and Jacody in recent years, has come up with another potential stakes star.
Last Thursday he sent out the 2-year-old filly, Prospector's Fuel, in her first start at Pimlico Race Course, and she responded with a 14 1/2 -length win in near track-record time.
Jockey Kenny Skinner told Donovan that if he had hit the filly with the whip, she might have set a record. Prospector's Fuel ran the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04 4/5, three-fifths of a second slower than Luck Penny's track mark.
The horse is owned in partnership by Alvin Akman and Donna Donovan, the trainer's wife, who selected the filly out of the Timonium sales last fall.
"I just loved the way she moved and must have looked at her 10 times," Donna Donovan said. Prospector's Fuel is a half sister to $687,000-earner Flaming Emperor, but brought only $22,000 at the sale "because she had a scar from running into a truck when she was a weanling," Donna Donovan said.
The filly was broken in the Carolinas by Webb Carroll and then was readied for the Timonium 2-Year-Old Sale in May by Randy Hartley and Dean de Renzo in Ocala, Fla.
Prospector's Fuel topped the sale at $80,000, but was bought back by the Donovans, who then sold 70 percent of her to Akman.