Racing commissions in Maryland and Kentucky have approved changes in the Preakness and Kentucky Derby post-position draws that could make the draws nearly as exciting as the races.
Beginning next year, the draws for those two races -- and presumably the Belmont Stakes as well -- will focus on strategy instead of chance. The Maryland Racing Commission approved the change Wednesday for the Preakness, one week after the Kentucky commission approved it for the Derby.
For years, a numbered pill was drawn from a cup and matched with a horse. That number was the horse's post position.
Now, the draw for post position -- often crucial to a horse's chances -- will resemble the NBA and NFL drafts. Trainers and owners will have to choose a horse's starting position.
A numbered pill will still be drawn, but it won't determine starting position. It will determine the order in which positions will be selected.
For instance, if Captain Bodgit drew No. 1, his connections would have first choice of post position. If he drew No. 10, they'd have 10th choice.
Trainers and owners would have a set amount of time for deliberation, and then they'd have to choose. Joe De Francis, majority owner of Pimlico and Laurel Park, said Triple Crown officials are considering two minutes.
The idea, De Francis said, is to add strategy and suspense -- and speculation and second-guessing -- to what has been a pretty dull affair. He said Preakness officials are negotiating with ESPN about broadcasting the draw live, as ESPN does with the Kentucky Derby draw.
Gary Capuano, trainer of Captain Bodgit, who finished second in the Derby and third in the Preakness, said the new method should make the draw more exciting.
But what happens, he said, if you have a large group of owners -- as he had this year with Captain Bodgit's 32 partners? What if half want the horse on the rail and half want him outside?
Such dilemmas are precisely why the new method is a great improvement over the old one. Fans can chew on the decisions like cud.
Poor Form in Maryland
The Daily Racing Form might as well have taped a sign on its back that says: KICK ME. What it's done to its Maryland edition is a disgrace.
Laurel Park is no longer part of the multi-track Simulcast Showcase Edition. Instead, it shares a meager edition with tracks such as Philadelphia Park, Penn National, Delaware Park and the Meadowlands.
Steve Martin, vice president of circulation and sales, said the Form cut back on Maryland for several reasons, including a drop in sales (35 percent in three years), a decrease in popularity of Laurel races to out-of-state tracks and a poor relationship with Pimlico and Laurel Park management.
"We're really not making any money in Maryland," Martin said.
De Francis angrily denounced that reasoning. He said the Form's actions were retribution for Maryland's support of Equibase, a competing company that supplies statistics to the track programs.
"His comment about the popularity of the Laurel signal is total b.s." De Francis said. "It's as popular as ever."
Out-of-state betting on Laurel is down about a third, De Francis acknowledged. But that, he said, is mainly because the Form stopped publishing Laurel past performances in the simulcast edition.
"It's simply outrageous," De Francis said. "I can assure you we won't take this lying down."
He said he would discuss the matter with the Form, and if that did no good, he would explore the possibility of legal action. Also, he said, his tracks might enhance their programs and increase distribution.
"There's no possible justification for what the Form's doing," De Francis said. "If they want to sell no Forms in Maryland, that's the strategy they're pursuing."
One that got away
Maryland lost one of its most promising stallions Wednesday when Deerhound boarded a van for Brookdale Farm in Versailles, Ky. He'll reside in the company of some of the top sires in North America.
A group headed by Richard Kaster bought Deerhound from the syndicate that stood him at Audrey and Allen Murray's Murmur Farm in Harford County. Kaster, who lives in Wisconsin, also owns Countess Diana, the most prominent offspring of Deerhound, as well as Countess Diana's dam, the Maryland-bred T.V. Countess.
Countess Diana will likely be favored in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Nov. 8 at Hollywood Park. In five starts, she has won one Grade I and two Grade II stakes.
Fred Seitz, owner and operator of Brookdale Farm, had never seen Deerhound until Thursday when he walked off the van onto Kentucky soil.
"He's a magnificent horse," said Seitz, who also stands Deputy Minister and Crafty Prospector, No. 1 and No. 4, respectively, on the leading North American sires list. "Who knows how good he can be? It's exciting thinking of the possibilities."
No stud fee has been announced, nor would any of the parties reveal the selling price. But Allen Murray said Brookdale sent a nine-horse van and three men to pick up Deerhound.