'Upheaval' in Maryland keeps Slew's trainer away

ON HORSE RACING

March 23, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Billy Turner, who trained 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, will not train horses in Maryland this year because of what he describes as "upheaval" in the state's racing industry.

Turner, 57, has trained in Maryland since 1992 after moving here from New York. He spent the winter at Gulfstream Park in southern Florida, where recently he stood at his barn and explained his decision to move back to New York this spring.

"It was something I've agonized over and agonized over and agonized over," he said. "But there's so much upheaval there right now. And my owners are telling me: 'Get out of there for now. Let them sort it out, and when they get things sorted out we'll do whatever you want.' "

The "upheaval," Turner said, involves the political slugfest over slot machines at racetracks, increased competition from slots-rich Delaware and uncertainty about the proposed Maryland-Virginia racing circuit.

"I had some great years there and met a lot of nice people," he said. "But when you have the big stables splitting their horses between Delaware and Maryland, you know that the cream is going to go to Delaware because that's where the money is."

If enough good horses ship out of state that the best allowance races in Maryland don't fill, Turner said, then he would be forced to ship his horses even more often than last year.

"That's really what I was faced with," he said. "I shipped a lot last year as it was. You can only explain that to owners so long. It becomes a business to them."

Charles Town gets ready

As Delaware Park prepares to reopen for racing April 5, officials at the Charles Town track in West Virginia are hoping for a late April opening.

Roger R. Ramey, vice president of public affairs, said the track hopes to start racing April 30 and then open its video-lottery room four to six weeks later. Charles Town will offer 1,000 video-lottery terminals.

"There's still a lot of work to do," Ramey said. "But there's a lot of excitement, too. We're already getting calls about parties and bus charters."

County voters approved video-lottery terminals last fall, prompting Penn National Gaming Inc. to buy and renovate the struggling track. It is being transformed from a rundown, country track into a betting center with a Spanish motif.

When it shut down last fall, it awarded purses of $22,000 a day. Ramey said it will offer $40,000 to $50,000 upon reopening, "and we hope to get into 50, 60 and 70,000 fairly soon."

He said 88 percent of Charles Town's customers come from out of state, the bulk from Virginia and Maryland.

"I'm sure there'll be a lot of people down your way that come out here to see us," Ramey said.

Cigar's insurance

The Associated Press reports that the insurance company holding the $25 million infertility policy on Cigar has agreed to allow the Maryland-bred champion to cease trying to breed.

The policy required that Cigar, retired last fall after a brilliant racing career, be bred to 20 mares twice and impregnate at least 60 percent of them to be considered fertile. None of the 34 mares he's covered became pregnant.

After paying the policy, the insurance company will own the horse. Allen E. Paulson, one of his owners, said he believes the company will allow him to regain ownership.

After that, Paulson told the AP, he does not anticipate returning Cigar to racing.

Built for speed

Although Smoke Glacken, the Maryland-bred with blinding speed, won't race in the Kentucky Derby, he will -- if he remains sound -- provide racing fans with chills and thrills as the year progresses.

He is perhaps the fastest horse in the country.

Despite finishing third last Sunday in the Louisiana Derby, he ran the fastest six furlongs (1 minute, 10.2 seconds) in the 85-year history of the 1 1/16-mile race. And at the end, he did not fold; he held on grudgingly as two late-speed demons edged past.

"I still think, with a little more seasoning, he's going to win a lot of races -- a lot of big races," said part owner and trainer Henry Carroll, based this winter at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

Smoke Glacken's next start will be April 20 in the $175,000 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, Ky., another 1 1/16-mile race but over a track more conducive to speed. The main goal, Carroll said, is the Metropolitan Handicap on May 26 at Belmont Park, a Grade I race of one mile.

Taking stock in Virginia

Colonial Downs, the racetrack under construction in Virginia, sold 4.25 million shares of common stock last week at $9.50 a share. The nearly $40 million in proceeds will be used to complete construction of the track and off-track betting facilities.

O.J. "Jim" Peterson III, president of Colonial Downs, said the track is scheduled to begin its 30-day thoroughbred meet on Labor Day, Sept. 1. The Maryland Jockey Club plans to cease live racing during that time.

Dubai World Cup

Thirteen horses from around the world are set for the second $4 million Dubai World Cup on Saturday at Nad Al Sheba in Dubai.

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