Two top Md. trainers get stalls at Del. Park Purses, proximity lure Capuano, Leatherbury

March 04, 1997|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Despite assurances by Delaware Park officials that they would not recruit Maryland-based horses, the track has granted stalls for the coming meet to Maryland's top two trainers.

Dale Capuano and King Leatherbury each will have 15 stalls at Delaware Park when it opens in April, the first time they have had operations there.

The two Maryland-based trainers typically vie for the most wins at meetings of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park.

Trainers of the class of Capuano and Leatherbury would not have considered Delaware Park in the past. But the track has more than doubled the amount of money it gives away in purses since it began installing video gambling machines in late 1995. Maryland officials worry that the competitor will draw horses and dollars from the local tracks, which have had to cut their purses in recent years because of a decline in betting on live races.

Capuano said the horses he will ship to Delaware will come from his operation at Hialeah Park in Florida, and not affect his Maryland operation. He has 55 stalls at Laurel and does not want to stable too many horses in the same place and have them running against each other.

"It was either Delaware or Philadelphia Park, and Delaware is much closer for me," he said.

Before opening his Florida operation this winter, he stabled some horses at Pimlico.

"Maryland is my main headquarters. That's where I live and that's the base of my operation and that's going to stay that way," Capuano said.

Leatherbury said he has several owners who wanted to run at Delaware because of the higher purses and, in some cases, the proximity of the track to their homes. He also wanted to establish a beachhead for the day when Maryland's year-round racing program is pared back to eight months.

Laurel and Pimlico have signed an agreement to close for up to four months in the summer to accommodate a new track being built near Richmond, Va. Leatherbury wants to be sure he has a nearby track to use in those months.

"I'm just using this as a form of protection to keep from getting in a jam," Leatherbury said. "Since Delaware is so close and since their purses are going to be better than ours, there is no reason not to take advantage of that."

He said he will retain the base of his operation in Maryland, where he has 60 stalls at Laurel and Pimlico, and probably will take on more horses to fill the new stalls.

"We'll probably just blow up so we'll have the 15 horses there and the 60 horses here," he said.

But, he added, his top horses will naturally gravitate to the tougher competition likely to ensue in Delaware as the purses go up. That, he believes, eventually could erode the quality of Maryland racing and the fans it attracts.

Leatherbury and Capuano said they were not recruited by Delaware Park, but neither did they face resistance getting stalls.

Delaware Park owner William Rickman said he is not actively seeking Maryland-based horses but gave Leatherbury and Capuano stalls because several clients of the horsemen -- including former Delaware Park president Baird Brittingham -- have long-standing ties to Delaware.

Pub Date: 3/04/97

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