Pimlico gets sprueed up in time for spring debut



If a sudden 40-degree rise in temperature hasn't told you spring is here, maybe this will: Racing returns Wednesday to, Pimlico.

Ah, breathe in the spring air the scent of tangy manure, the fresh paint. Yes, Marty Azola has been at it again (we're referring only to the paint) .

He is Pimlico and Laurel Park's vice president of facilities, perhaps the aging tracks' most unenviable position. But in nearly three years, Azola has spent $10 million on new work -- not maintenance - and anyone who regularly attends the races should appreciate it.

The simulcast theater, Longshots bar and remodeled food Court altered the character of Laurel's grandstand. His tasteful paint schemes inside and out have vastly improved grimy appearances.

For the spring at Pimlico his workers have painted the unsightly roof buildings gray like a cloudy day (they were an eye-drawing yellow), the outside of the grandstand white, the horseman's porch mostly hunter green and the firstfloor grandstand tan, white and blue.

They've added outside accent,lighting, paved the circular clubhouse entrance, widened sidewalks, planted flowers, hidden dumpsters, rebuilt fences, recarpeted the Jockey Club and refurbished the disgusting men's room on the grandstand's first floor (It's kind of like a real bathroom now," Azola said).

A second antique bar from the Power Plant similar to Longshots, called The Inside Rail, graces the second-floor grandstand. And Azola says proudly, "We finished painting all the barns."

They also rebuilt Barn G. which was falling down.

Now, if bettors would just stop spitting on the floors ...

The opening of Pimlico also means turf racing, MATCH races, Maryland Spring Challenge Day on April 18, Pimlico Special on May 9, Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on May 15 and, of course, Preakness Stakes on May 16.

Pimlico's meet ends June2].

Today is closing day at Laurel Park.

Injured jockey improving

Eve Weneck, the 20-year-old apprentice jockey injured a month ago at Laurel, says she's doing "pretty good" despite the upper body cast protecting the three broken vertebrae in her back.

"It doesn't hurt too much anymore," she said from her parents' house in Jonestown, Pa. "I can walk and everything."

She said she'll wear the cast until at least May. Doctors told her she won't be able to ride for at least six months to a year. But Weneck isn't sure she wants to.

"Well, it's not that I don't want to," she said. "In fact, I'd love to come back. I love doing it. But I'm engaged [marriage date uncertain], and we want to raise a family. So I'm just trying to weigh what's most important to me.... And I've got plenty of time to think about it."

Amy Cortez, the other apprentice hurt in the spill, was not injured as seriously as first believed. Within days she returned to work.

Hilton hits 2,500

Robert R. "Bobby" Hilton saddled his 2,500th winner Wednesday at Charles Town. His Spoonbread won the fifth race.

Hilton, 66, has been stabled on and off in Maryland, but Charles Town has mainly been home sine he sent out his first winner, Grayling, in 1955 at the Cumberland Fair. He trained horses for C. Oliver Goldsmith, including Red Lamp and Turn Capp.

"I would guess he's won more races at Charles Town than any other trainer," said Ann Hilton, his former wife who still buys horses for him to train.

Ruffian, the Done?

Jane Schwartz, author of "Ruffian: Burning from the Start," has sold the book's movie rights to a California producer, Billy Koch. Still, she said, that's a long way from meaning a film is forthcoming.

"It's a start," she said. "Now they have to get the money to develop it. I'd say there's a chance it could be made into a movie."

If it is, she said, she will write the initial screenplay. She's concerned about any film accurately telling the story. In fact, she said, for that reason she resisted for five years selling the rights.

The book is marvelous. It tells the story of Barbara and Stuart Janney's filly-who was injured in a 1975 match race with Foolish Pleasure and euthanized-about as deftly as a story can be told.


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