State-of-art grandstand will greet Laurel fans


October 12, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

When you enter the first-floor grandstand at Laurel Park beginning Wednesday, the day horses will race again in Maryland, don't worry; you didn't take a wrong turn into the twilight zone.

But what you see may shock you.

While horses raced in Virginia -- and Delaware and New Jersey and Pennsylvania and -- workers at Laurel remodeled the first-floor grandstand.

Gone are the betting windows in the middle of the room nearest the clubhouse. They've been replaced by a four-sided display of TVs that Martin P. Azola, vice president of facilities, describes as "the finest television display in any of our facilities. It rivals the Pimlico Sports Palace."

Seats surround the display. Mutuel clerks and self-betting machines have been relocated along the back wall. Most of the floor has been tiled and carpeted. New speakers and lights have been installed.

Toward the center of the room, where a bank of TVs used to stand, is now an old bar the track bought from the Power Plant downtown. The bar is heavy oak with mirrors and brass foot rails. It's ringed by a wrought-iron railing. Azola said it will probably be named "Long Shots" or "The Inside Rail."

Workers also plan on redecorating the food court. It will soon be "as nice as any food court in an upscale mall," Azola said.

The improvements are among 54 active repair projects at Laurel and 23 at Pimlico. Patrons won't see most of them, such as the new million-dollar roof at Laurel (the most expensive project of all).

But many will be noticeable, including these at Laurel: dark-green wrought-iron fencing along the apron, sandy-beige paint on the concrete wall below the fencing, wrought-iron railing around the horsemen's porch, new entrance to the administrative offices, white and wine-red paint in the second-floor clubhouse.

In addition, Jeannine Edwards will temporarily assume the racing analyst's job formerly held by Kim Goodwin, who announced her resignation during the Colonial Downs meet. An anchor on ESPN2's "2day At The Races", Edwards will work until management decides what to do with Goodwin's position.

Jim Mango, chief administrative officer, said the track has advertised nationally and received about 15 audition tapes. But, he said, management is evaluating the role of an on-air analyst in this day of rapid-fire simulcasting.

"There's a difference of opinion on the value of this kind of person," Mango said. "We want to take a little time and look at what we're doing right and wrong in this whole area."

Meanwhile, a new video-graphics system will debut this week on TV monitors -- a system that is, in Mango's words, "very, very attractive and very user-friendly."

Also, Saturday on Maryland Million Day, track employees will wear spiffy new uniforms. Coordinated by Elizabeth Quill, the pari-mutuel director, the uniforms will be worn by everyone from parking-lot attendants to mutuel clerks to the starting-gate crew.

The festive Maryland Million Day is the highlight of the fall racing schedule. Horses sired by Maryland stallions will compete in 11 races for purses totaling $1 million.

Draw innovation

With the announcement last week that the Preakness and Belmont stakes have each raised purses to $1 million comes this: The Triple Crown races may replace their boring post-position draws with a far more interesting method that would ensure drama and intrigue.

Officials at Churchill Downs, Pimlico and Belmont Park have discussed revamping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont draws to resemble NBA and NFL drafts.

In the past, a numbered pill was drawn from a container and matched with a horse, and that number was the horse's post position. That was hardly worth showing up for, and some prominent trainers and owners didn't.

Possibly starting next year, someone would draw the name of a horse, and then that horse's connections would have to choose their post position. They'd have a set amount of time for consultation, and then they'd have to pick. The process would be repeated for each entrant.

Joe De Francis says he wishes he could take credit for the idea, but that credit belongs to Tom Meeker of Churchill Downs. De Francis says representatives of the Triple Crown tracks are working out the details. He hopes in the next month or two to take the proposal to the Maryland Racing Commission.

Traitor on comeback trail?

He may be, says Mary Eppler, trainer of the talented colt retired in May because of a torn suspensory ligament. Horses sometimes come back from that injury, and Eppler says the 3-year-old Traitor may be the comeback kind.

He never left Eppler's barn at Pimlico, and he's been jogging on and off for about three months. Depending on how he does, Eppler may begin galloping him before the end of the year.

One of last year's top 2-year-olds and a Triple Crown candidate this year, Traitor still has a long way to go. Eppler says she won't race him unless he shows he's fully recovered and capable of regaining his old form.

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