Dowd defends trim of Rosecroft dates

ON HORSE RACING

November 26, 1995|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The suspension of racing in January at Rosecroft Raceway represents the most severe of a number of changes instituted by new president Dennis Dowd.

Dowd was appointed by the Bally Entertainment Corp. two months ago to help shore up business at the Prince George's County harness track, and so far his presence has made more of an impression externally.

"The out-of-state handle has gone up, so that means we're being appreciated there first," he said. "That is now starting to spill over on the track."

Among Dowd's other changes are slightly higher quality claiming races with more even fields, new handicappers on in-house television and the institution of new cameras and graphics.

His plan also includes work on the track surface during the January break to shorten the distance between the inside and outside rails on the far turn.

That will make horses drawing the No. 9 post, which have a poor winning percentage, more competitive on the five-eighths-mile oval.

Dowd said he had no choice but to reduce racing to maintain the purse structure at $35,000 to $40,000 nightly. The reaction from horsemen has been mixed.

"A large group realizes that over the long range, this is the best move," he said. "Others feel like four weeks without a paycheck is too tough. Still, if you look at it positively, you can work one less month and make the same."

Dowd wants to set aside a small portion of the schedule for Rosecroft's sister track, Delmarva Downs, to run exclusively.

"We'd like to race a little bit there without competition and see what happens," he said. "It just makes sense to make Delmarva healthier."

On buddy track

JTC

When he met with the horsemen last week, Maryland Jockey Club president Joe De Francis reiterated his desire to cooperate fully with Virginia when that state begins thoroughbred racing.

"It's absolutely imperative that we have that kind of relationship," said De Francis, who is scheduled to operate the new Colonial Downs track for Toledo, Ohio, harness man Arnold Stansley.

Although there has been infighting between De Francis and Stansley, their partnership is scheduled to begin in earnest in 1997.

"The track will not be ready by the summer of next year," De Francis said. "The earliest it would open would be the following summer."

In the meantime, off-track betting sites are being readied in Chesapeake, Hampton Roads and Richmond, Va. There is talk of holding a short, makeshift meeting next year at Colonial Downs.

Casino war rages

The best-case scenario for racing: no casinos anywhere in Maryland. The worst-case: casinos all over the state.

No one knows how the issue will settle, but De Francis knows one thing: "Under no circumstances do we want to be used as a stalking horse to open the door for Las Vegas-style casinos."

The reality of slot machines opening soon at Delaware tracks and the debate in the Maryland legislature over casinos is stoking the tracks' fire these days.

De Francis noted that "we won a battle, but the war will go on," after the Tydings Commission recently voted unanimously against casinos in the state.

Slots' installation in Delaware will give that state a number of advantages in racing, including higher purses, attraction to horsemen who could run in either state, and revenue produced by slots that can be used for marketing.

Another problem for the thoroughbred sector is the ownership of the state's harness tracks by Bally's, which obviously has casino interests.

"We currently have no consensus among the horse people," De Francis said. "Our primary focus is to form a coalition to get a position."

Busy winter at Pimlico

Pimlico Race Course was closed for training and stabling last winter, but a surplus of horses coming to Maryland means the track will be jumping this winter.

Chief operations officer John Mooney explained that Maryland trainers are not taking as many horses to southern tracks this year, and others are wintering in this state or shifting horses from facilities that will not be open.

"We have 300 to 400 more horses than we have stalls for at Laurel and Bowie, so we are unable to move any from Pimlico," Mooney said. "Three barns at Pimlico will not be winterized, but the stalls will be close to full."

Mooney said nearly 100 horses are coming from Canada, and that several stables from Delaware Park and Charles Town are moving into Bowie.

"We have a lot more younger horses in for training earlier than usual," he said. "So in the spring we should be in good shape with 3-year-olds at Pimlico."

Cohen was racing giant

The death of Giant Food magnate Israel Cohen last week has cost racing a major player in the state. Cohen was a longtime owner-breeder who purchased outstanding stock at out-of-state auctions and campaigned the horses in Maryland.

Among his top horses were Mighty Appealing, who won the 1984 Laurel Futurity; Montbrook, champion of the 1993 De Francis Dash; Mixed Appeal; and Speakerphone, who ran in the Preakness.

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