Time to count the days till Maryland Million: 13

On Horse Racing

October 05, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

As horses race in Virginia and all the neighboring states, as the harness faction bickers with the thoroughbred faction, as Bally's on the Eastern Shore ruffles Maryland Jockey Club feathers in Western Maryland, as the racing spotlight focuses on meetings in Hagerstown, meetings in Annapolis, meetings everywhere except on the racetrack, it's easy to forget that the joy and rewards of this sport revolve around the competitive pounding of hoofs on a glorious Saturday afternoon.

Thankfully, horse racing soon returns to Maryland after its six-week foray into Virginia. Laurel Park opens Oct. 15. But that distant drumbeat beckoning you to the races is for three days later, Oct. 18, and the fall highlight of the racing season: Maryland Million Day.

Always a festive occasion attended by about 20,000 fans, the Maryland Million this year could be the greatest ever. With a state grant of $500,000 from a fund of uncashed pari-mutuel tickets, Maryland Million Ltd. has greatly increased advertising and added events between races that should appeal to families and casual fans.

The centerpiece remains the 11 races, including one steeplechase, offering purses totaling $1 million. The races are for horses sired by Maryland stallions.

Tim Capps, executive director of Maryland Million Ltd., says the organizers have tried to turn the day into a horse fair. They've hired Jerry Diaz, supposedly the world's best at riding and roping, to entertain between races.

"You've got to see this guy to believe him," Capps says.

Jack Russell terriers will race. The U.S. Equestrian team will perform. Different breeds of horses will be displayed. Bands will play. Five thousand T-shirts will be given away. Faces and portraits will be painted.

"It's always had a festive atmosphere," Capps says. "This should give it that little extra oomph."

Also, beginning tomorrow, watch for more than 300 radio and TV commercials. Advertisements will appear in newspapers; already, Maryland Million ads have run offering free trips to the Breeders' Cup on Nov. 8 at Hollywood Park in California.

Maryland Million Ltd. has purchased live race coverage on Channel 45, which will run more than 100 promotion spots. In the past, Home Team Sports has broadcast the races.

"With Fox, we had the opportunity to expand our audience considerably," Capps says. "We're trying to raise the profile of the event, stimulate some attendance, increase sponsorship and give the current sponsors more visibility."

Maryland racing receives its share of criticism for insufficient advertising and promotion. It will be interesting to see whether a half a million dollars spent creatively can make a difference at the turnstiles and betting windows.

Want to own a horse?

The deadline for pre-entries to the Maryland Million races is Wednesday. The names of more than 125 horses are expected.

At 8: 30 a.m. on Maryland Million Day, in the Ruffian Room at Laurel Park, a seminar for new and prospective owners of horses will be held. Sponsored by the Maryland Horse Breeders Association and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, the seminar will include tips on getting into the business, a visit to the Laurel Park stables, a meeting with trainers Gary and Dale Capuano, breakfast, lunch and seats under a tent on the first turn for the day's races.

The cost is $25. Call 410-252-2100.

Confide joins Northview

Northview Stallion Station in Cecil County has purchased a 50 percent interest in the top sprinter Confide. A 3-year-old son of Phone Trick, Confide has returned to racing after stepping on a nail earlier this year in Florida. Trained by Ben Perkins Sr., Confide is being pointed toward the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

"We like bringing new blood into the state," says Northview's Richard Golden. "We think it's good for the sales, good for racing, good for everybody."

The plan calls for Confide, a graded-stakes winner, to race through next year, and then join Northview's outstanding roster of stallions in 1999.

One Maryland stallion who may be on the move is Deerhound, sire of leading 2-year-old filly Countess Diana and the promising 2-year-old filly Expensive Issue.

Audrey and Allen Murray, owners of Murmer Farm in Darlington, are considering offers for Deerhound from breeding farms in Kentucky. The Murrays own nine shares of the 40-share Deerhound syndicate.

Deerhound, a 9-year-old son of Danzig, was bred to 65 mares in his first season (1994), 70 in 1995, 86 in 1996 and 36 this year. That was because no son or daughter from his first crop won a stakes race last year.

But now, with Grade I winner Countess Diana one of the favorites for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, Deerhound is hot, perhaps too hot to remain in Maryland.

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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