Pimlico Special could really be special

On Horse Racing

March 08, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Sonny Hine has committed Skip Away to the Pimlico Special. Now, if Gentlemen and Silver Charm can be enticed by a $1 million purse, Maryland may end up playing host to the year's greatest race.

"The Pimlico Special's on my schedule," Hine said from his barn at Gulfstream Park. "I'd love to take on those other two. But I'm just waiting to see what happens."

Things happen in horse racing. Gentlemen and Silver Charm were to clash for the first time yesterday in the Santa Anita Handicap. But Friday, Silver Charm was scratched with a bruised foot.

Now, Bob Baffert, Silver Charm's trainer, must wait to see about the foot before scheduling his colt's spring and summer campaign. And Richard Mandella, trainer of Gentlemen, had said all along that he wouldn't commit his horse to specific races until after the Big 'Cap.

Regardless, nobody seems too excited about Oaklawn Park's offer of $1 million to the winner of the Oaklawn Handicap on April 4 -- if all three big horses compete.

"It's a long way to go and a hard place to get to," Hine said. "And then if three don't show up and only two come, then you're all out of sync."

Hine said he talked recently to Bob Lewis, owner of Silver Charm, "and he said he'll wait until after the 'Cap to decide," Hine said. "But he said he hasn't ever had any real luck there at Oaklawn at all."

If Skip Away, Gentlemen and Silver Charm -- the top three horses in training -- converge on Pimlico for the Special on May 9, Maryland sports fans may be in for the treat of the year.

"If they do, we'll go out, we'll spare no expense, to try to turn this into a real fan appreciation day," said Joe De Francis, principal owner of Pimlico and Laurel Park.

Maryland's thoroughbred horsemen agreed to increase the purse of the Special from $600,000 to $750,000 if two of the top horses come, and to $1 million if three come -- as long as De Francis would offer free general parking, admission and program.

De Francis agreed, but he acknowledged that the Pimlico Special, although ideally placed on the calendar for horses, is a tough sell to fans.

"For local interest from fans, it's one of the toughest weekends of the year," De Francis said. "It comes the Saturday between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, when the focus is on the 3-year-olds. Then we throw in this race for older horses. It's confusing. It's asking the casual fan to come to the races three weekends in a row."

But the Pimlico Special is usually one of year's top races. Gentlemen edged Skip Away last year. Cigar won in 1995. Other winners were Strike the Gold, Criminal Type, Bet Twice, Tom Fool, Citation, Assault, Armed, Whirlaway, Seabiscuit and War Admiral.

"The race has always attracted a stellar field," De Francis said. "This year, if we can attract those three horses, it might be the best race, or certainly one of the best, in the 1990s."

Marketing Rosecroft

Don Wares, the newly elected president of the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association, says one of his goals is to let the world know about Rosecroft Raceway, the harness track in Prince George's County.

"After all these years, Rosecroft is still a secret to many people," Wares said. "We've been working hard, trying to improve our product, so to speak, trying to make it a more comfortable, appealing place to spend a couple of hours. We'll do anything we can to make it a friendly, fun place to come."

Standardbreds race at Rosecroft on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Post time is 7: 20. The track is open for simulcasts every day except Tuesday.

Owner of a farm in Calvert County, Wares acknowledges that harness racing in the state is fighting an uphill battle as long as Delaware's purses, enriched by slot machines, soar above Maryland's. Dover Downs offers purses about double what Rosecroft gives away.

"It's a huge challenge, trying to remain competitive," Wares said. "But we need to ensure that people in Maryland can at least make a fair living at this -- so we can keep going here."

Longwood Farm's future

C. Oliver Goldsmith's Longwood Farm has been sold to a neighbor who plans to expand his horticulture business there, said Goldsmith's son, Robert.

After Goldsmith, a legend in Maryland racing, died last May, his ++ children debated about what to do with his farm in Glenwood in Howard County. Robert Goldsmith said they finally decided to sell, hoping someone would buy who wanted to keep it a horse farm. Part of their hopes were realized.

Al Smith, who lives across the street from Longwood, has agreed to buy it for expansion of his business, Robert said. He said Smith plans to build a few greenhouses, but retaining most of the pastures and even boarding a few horses.

"He doesn't have any plans to develop the property for at least 10 years," Robert said. "That was my main concern, that some heartless developer would go in there and run over the place."

Robert said Turn Capp and Red Lamp, two of his father's favorite old mares, will live out their days at Longwood.

Et cetera

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