Md.-bred trio making its mark

September 04, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

At the beginning of the summer, it looked like another so-so year for Maryland-breds.

Now, all of a sudden as summer is about to end, there's an explosion of serious horses on the national scene who have their roots in Maryland.

If voting were conducted tomorrow, which of these three horses -- Corrazona, Concern or Taking Risks -- would be named Maryland's 1994 Horse of the Year?

Corrazona, a 4-year-old filly who raced in France until this spring, broke the Grade I barrier for state-breds on July 3 when she defeated two champions, Hollywood Wildcat and Flawlessly, in the Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood Park. It was her third consecutive win and she boosted an undefeated record for her new U.S. trainer, Dick Mandella, until she finished fifth, beaten less than four lengths, last weekend in the Beverly D. Handicap at Arlington International Racecourse.

At this point, that loss probably drops her to third of this top trio of Maryland-breds. Corrazona, a daughter of El Gran Senor, was bred in Howard County by Diane Rachuba at her defunct Willow Wood Farm in Marriottsville where Rachuba kept a small, but select, group of thoroughbreds, which have now been disbanded. Corrazona was actually foaled across the street from Willow Wood at Peggy and Tater Pruitt's Arden Acres Farm and was sold as a weanling by Rachuba in Kentucky for $550,000.

Then, who can forget Concern's magnificent run at Holy Bull in the Aug. 20 Travers Stakes at Saratoga? Always a bridesmaid but never a bride, Concern still was only beaten by a neck by Holy Bull, who could at year's end be named America's Horse of the Year.

Concern's 1994 earnings after the Travers stand at $721,670, making him the ninth richest thoroughbred in training in North America and by far the richest state-bred. That's quite a feat for owner Bob Meyerhoff and trainer Dick Small. Concern could go next in the Sept. 18 Molson Export Million at Woodbine Race Course in Canada, a Grade II event. Concern is already a Grade II winner by virtue of his victory earlier in the year in the Arkansas Derby, but he has yet to crack the Grade I barrier.

Maryland's second Grade I winner of 1994 occurred the day after the Travers when the rags-to-riches career of Taking Risks reached its zenith. The 4-year-old gelding upset last year's Maryland-bred Horse of the Year, Valley Crossing, by 7 3/4 lengths in the Philip H. Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park.

Taking Risks took down $150,000 for that win and increased his 1994 earnings to $405,480, not bad for a former claimer that King Leatherbury haltered for $20,000 for the Lakeville Stakes of Baird Brittingham and Daniel Lufkin.

Taking Risks starts next as the probable odds-on favorite in the Oct. 1 Maryland Million Classic at Laurel Race Course. By virtue of his impressive Iselin victory, Taking Risks probably has the edge for year-end honors. But there's still four more months left in 1994 and a major win for Concern or even Corrazona could vault them into the lead.

Is it a "cut" or a "readjustment?

When Pimlico/Laurel racing executives John Mooney and Lenny Hale met with state horsemen last week, they presented a table of purse cuts worked out with owner/trainers Ferris Allen and Jack Mobberley in certain categories of races that could help ease about an $800,000 current overpayment in purses.

It is not an across-the-board cut -- some divisions, such as high-priced claimers, would actually show a purse increase. Instead track president Joe De Francis refers to it as "a purse readjustment."

"When Lenny came in last year and the better races started filling, more purse money was actually distributed. But we didn't announce a purse increase," De Francis said. "Now what we want to do is redistribute some of that money. We're proposing consolidating some of the race categories that horses compete in, in an effort to make the cards fill better and spread the purses out more efficiently. In some divisions we're increasing purses, in others we're reducing them."

Total savings could amount to almost $10,000 a day and help reduce the overpayment "rather quickly," De Francis said. "Actually, I expect by the end of Timonium tomorrow and the Pimlico summer meet [Sept. 25], that the overpayment figure could drop to about $400,000. The simulcasting success during the Timonium meet has exceeded projections by 30 to 40 percent."

De Francis says Pimlico/Laurel should show a modest 1994 profit, but the tracks are still trying to make up for a poor first quarter of 1993 when wagering fell nearly 20 percent before the advent of simulcasting and off-track betting programs.

"Looking back, I probably should have bitten the bullet and cut purses at that time," De Francis said recently. Overpayment occurs when the track pays out more money in purses than the betting handle dictates. It is considered a type of loan to horsemen to stabilize the purse structure. The figure usually fluctuates during the year.

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