Horse lovers can visit favorites at home

On Horse Racing

September 14, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Although horse racing makes headlines at racetracks, the natural splendor of the sport is most evident at farms. Next month, a tour of six horse farms provides people the opportunity to see what is most beautiful and inspiring about Maryland's horse industry.

A bus will transport people on Oct. 11 to the Harford County farms of Bonita, Murmur and Country Life, and, on Oct. 12, to the Carroll and Baltimore County farms of Corbett, Sagamore and Shamrock.

Tickets are $25 per day, available by calling 410-252-2100. The bus will pick up passengers in Fairfax, Va., at Laurel Park and Pimlico.

The tour is sponsored by the Maryland Million and the Railsitters. The Maryland Million, a series of races for horses sired by Maryland stallions, will be Oct. 18 at Laurel Park. The Railsitters are a group of horse enthusiasts.

"What unites us? The love of horses," said Olive Cooney, the 70-year-old founder of the Railsitters. "And my little quote is: The horse is the star of the show."

A resident of Centreville, Va., Cooney started the group two years ago. Its 65 members range in age from 15 to 77. About evenly split between Maryland and Virginia, they tour racetrack stables, meet trainers and go to the races.

"We have a great time," Cooney said, who welcomes calls from horse lovers at 703-818-1644.

Douglas recovering

Jockey Frank Douglas wants everyone to know: "I'll be OK. It'll be a while, but I'll be OK."

Seriously injured in a riding accident two weeks ago at Timonium, Douglas spent the first week at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center and then last week at Kernan Hospital. He said he expects to come home this weekend and begin rehabilitation tomorrow as an outpatient in Annapolis.

"That was a bad accident," said Douglas, who suffered brain injuries when thrown from his mount. "I busted my head pretty good. It's going to be a while before I can come back to ride."

1,000 wins for Robb

The milestone passed so quietly even Jerry Robb didn't notice.

A trainer based at Bowie, Robb knew he was closing in on 1,000 victories. But when his Run John Run won the Taking Risks Handicap at Timonium on Aug. 31, Robb didn't realize that was the big one until confirming it later with the Daily Racing Form.

Run John Run was an appropriate winner for Robb's 1,000th. The 4-year-old brown colt comes from the same bloodlines -- human and horse (Clagett and John Alden) -- that helped ensure Robb's success. He began training horses in 1975.

"My big break came when I bought a couple of horses from Hal Clagett and did pretty well with them," Robb said. "I've been training for him ever since."

The greatest of the Clagett horses was Little Bold John, who raced nine seasons (1984 through 1992) and won 38 of 105 races. Twenty-five of those wins were stakes. Hal C.B. Clagett bred Little Bold John.

Now, Robb also trains for Clagett's son, Hal Clagett III, and his wife, Kathy. They own Run John Run, who shares the same sire, John Alden, as Little Bold John.

For Robb, Run John Run was one of 10 winners at Timonium during its 10-day fair meet. That led all trainers, the eighth time Robb earned the honor at Timonium. He was once second at Pimlico.

"I've never had the numbers to keep up with Dale and King," Robb said, referring to leading trainers Dale Capuano and King Leatherbury. "But I've always been there third or fourth."

Robb conditions 30 horses at the Bowie Training Center.

Ocean Downs up, down

Ocean Downs concluded its 40-day summer meet one week ago. Dennis Dowd, president of Bally's Maryland Inc., owner of the harness track near Ocean City, said attendance and handle were both up significantly from last year -- attendance 45 percent and handle 17 percent.

"The meet was fantastic," Dowd said, "except for that last week, when he kind of got our clock cleaned."

Harrington Raceway, a harness track in Delaware with slot machines, opened Aug. 24 and claimed most of Ocean Downs' horses and many of its bettors. Because of profits from slots, Harrington offers about $100,000 in daily purses compared with Ocean Downs' $17,500.

Dowd said attendance averaged about 1,800 compared with 1,160 last year, and handle about $100,000 compared with $83,000 last year. Why? He listed numerous reasons:

A reduction in racing days from 65 to 40, an increase in daily purses from $10,000 to $17,500, $400,000 in capital improvements and another $100,000 under way, increased advertising, free admission and general parking, cheaper and better food, entertainment such as concerts and pony rides, a consistent schedule, better management and customer service, and series races that pitted horses against each other in successive weeks.

Last week, members of the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee visited Ocean Downs, giving Dowd a chance to illustrate with charts the impact on a Maryland track of a Delaware track that offers slot machines.

"It can be shown so graphically what happens when a track 45 miles away opens with five times your purse structure," Dowd said.

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