When the Maryland Million celebrates its 10th anniversary on Oct. 14, thoroughbred horsemen will be running for the first time for purse money sponsored by a casino company.
Richard Wilcke, executive director of Maryland Million, Ltd., said the organization has reached a tentative agreement with Bally Entertainment Corp. that will add the gaming firm to the Million's list of race sponsors.
It's likely, he said, that Bally will sponsor two of the 11 races -- the Maryland Million Turf and one of two starter handicaps. Total cost of the package will range from $40,000 to $65,000, depending on whether Bally sponsors both races.
Dave Irwin, Bally's local counsel, said that although the casino company is mostly involved in Maryland's horse industry through management of the two harness tracks, Rosecroft and Delmarva raceways, operations are also thoroughbred-related in the joint management of off-track and intertrack betting facilities.
"We thought it was important to have a presence in thoroughbred racing's three biggest days, which in this state are the Preakness, Maryland Million and Breeders' Cup," Irwin said. He added that the company is "far along" in its negotiations with the Maryland Million. "What we're waiting on now is final approval from Bally's main office [in Chicago]," Irwin said.
Normally, such a move wouldn't attract attention, but it was thoroughbred horsemen, including the breeders who are most closely associated with the Maryland Million, who expressed objections to Bally's coming into the state, taking over harness operations and possibly infringing on racing's gambling turf.
Now, however, they, like the harness horsemen, seem eager to take Bally's money.
Is it smart business or hypocrisy?
"Our feeling is that Bally is a player and is now quite involved in Maryland racing," Wilcke said. "I don't think we have to take a position on how casinos mesh with racetracks to decide whether or not we'll take their money."
However, the move does mean that thoroughbred horsemen now seem to at least be giving tacit approval to developing a working relationship with casino interests.
Many of them testified at the first public hearing of the Tydings Commission -- which is gauging sentiment on the pros and cons of introducing casino gaming into Maryland -- that they have no objections to casinos coming into the state, as long as gaming operations are restricted to the racetracks and the racing industry receives part of the proceeds.
"Who knows, maybe we'll be doing something to sponsor a harness race," Wilcke said.
Timonium enters N.Y. market
It used to be that the 10-day Maryland State Fair meet at Timonium was regarded as insignificant half-mile racing. That seems to be changing in the era of widespread interstate simulcasting and the hefty raise in purses that is expected to draw better horses and jockeys to Timonium this year.
For the first time, Timonium will be simulcasting its live card into the New York off-track betting system, specifically on the three race days -- Aug. 28, 29 and 30 -- that bridge the end of the Saratoga meet and beginning of the Belmont Park fall meets.
In addition, such other major racing networks as the Philadelphia Park, Penn National and Atlantic City tracks will be taking the Timonium signal this year for the first time.
Dennis Smoter, the Maryland thoroughbred tracks' simulcast coordinator, said that last year only about a half dozen small tracks simulcast Timonium's live card.
The move is expected to improve even further Timonium's purse structure for 1996.
The state fair track will open for training tomorrow. The meet will open Aug. 26.
Belmont's select stable
When August Belmont IV, grandson of the founder of Belmont Park, died at 86 on July 10 in Easton, he left behind a small but select stable of thoroughbreds, mostly descendants of Caveat, his 1983 Belmont Stakes winner, that he co-owned with Jim Ryan and other partners. Belmont's horses, however, will not be dispersed.
In his will, he left them to Eastern Shore breeder Caroline Benson, who was one of his partners and who said last week that she and John Mullin, another Belmont partner, plan to carry on the operation.
"We're just not sure how we'll do it, whether we'll race the young horses or sell them," Benson said.
Included in the package are Swan, a daughter of Nijinsky II, who has produced four stakes winners, and is in foal to Allen's Prospect; Grade III stakes winner Heed, and the stakes-placed mare Accent Knightly, who is in foal to Carnivalay.
There are also two brothers to Heed, a 2-year-old named Heedless and a yearling called River Birch. Both are sons of Caveat.
Meet the jockeys