Jumpers get a Triple Crown this year

On Horse Racing

February 07, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The Triple Crown series for 3-year-old thoroughbreds will be accompanied this year for the first time by a Triple Crown for jumpers.

The Steeplechase Triple Crown will involve Grade I $100,000 races the Thursday before the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont at the respective Triple Crown tracks. Just as the Triple Crown features thoroughbreds in their first or second year of racing, the steeplechase series will feature horses in their first or second year of jumping.

"This gives us some real national exposure in the thoroughbred world," said Bill Gallo, director of racing for the National Steeplechase Association. "It's a good thing for us, and it's a good thing for racing in general."

He said the association hopes in future years to attract a national sponsor, offer a lucrative bonus for winning all three races and get the races on national TV.

Unlike the three-race series for thoroughbreds, which seldom features a favorite from Maryland, the Steeplechase Triple Crown offers as its early favorite what Marylanders can call their local favorite: Approaching Squall, trained by Tom Voss at his farm in Monkton.

Delaware's richer purses

A couple of weeks after Charles Town released its richest stakes schedule (because of slot machines), Delaware Park has released its richest stakes schedule (because of what? you guessed it).

Headed by the $500,000 Delaware Handicap on July 25, the schedule features 48 stakes, of which 30 will offer larger pots than last year. Sixteen will offer purses of $100,000 or more.

Delaware Park's 139-day meet will run from April 10 to Oct. 31. The slots-subsidized track will offer record daily purses of at least $250,000.

In Maryland, without assistance from the state, Pimlico and Laurel Park would offer daily purses this year of about $150,000. The Maryland harness tracks, where purses lag even farther behind Delaware's, would find themselves in far worse shape.

Derby futures wagering

Maryland racetracks and OTBs will offer the inaugural Kentucky Derby Future Wager, which will allow gamblers to bet on the winner of the May 1 Derby as early as Feb. 18. The wager was conceived by officials at Churchill Downs.

During three four-day periods (Feb. 18-21, March 11-14 and April 8-11), you can bet one of 23 horses to win or bet the 24th option: every other 3-year-old. A three-member panel will select the horses, and Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia will set the morning line.

The actual odds will be determined by the wagering, just as in any win pool. Each period will generate its own pool and closing odds.

The list of horses will change each period. But if your horse gets hurt, dies or for any other reason doesn't start in the Derby, you lose. Buyer beware: no refunds.

Autotote Corp. announced last week that its systems cannot process the wager because of the 24 betting interests. That will exclude several major markets. But Amtote, the company that serves Maryland, can handle the bet.

"We're on target with it," said Jim Mango, chief administrative officer of the Maryland Jockey Club. "We're placing ads in our programs this week."

Change in Kentucky

If Marylanders want a glimpse into the future of horse racing, they might consider Kentucky, the No. 1 racing state in the country. In recent weeks, the following has transpired:

The staid Keeneland Association, which operates the Keeneland racetrack in Lexington, joined with a casino company (Harrah's Entertainment Inc.) and a lottery provider (GTECH Corp.) to purchase Turfway Park in northern Kentucky.

The Kentucky lottery created a scratch-off game tied to this year's Kentucky Derby. Lottery officials said they wanted to become partners with the horse-racing industry.

Lottery officials in Kentucky said competition from casinos in neighboring states is cutting into lottery sales. Some lottery officials said the state needs slot machines to remain competitive in the fight for the gambling dollar.

The president of the Kentucky Senate, Larry Saunders, told the Louisville Courier-Journal that a bill legalizing slot machines at racetracks will likely be introduced in the next legislative session.

"I think it would have a good chance of passing, too," Saunders said.

A horseman, too

Paul Mellon, the art collector and environmentalist who died Monday at 91, also is remembered for one of his great passions: breeding and racing horses.

He is the only owner to win the Kentucky Derby (1993 with Sea Hero), Epsom Derby (1971 with Mill Reef) and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (also 1971 with Mill Reef). He campaigned six champions, including three that won Horse of the Year (Arts and Letters and Fort Marcy on this continent, Mill Reef in Europe).

He won the Belmont twice and the Travers five times. In 1972 he won the Eclipse Award as outstanding owner and breeder, and in 1993 he was honored with the Eclipse Award of Merit.

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