After detente comes waiting for results

On Horse Racing

April 04, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

In the wake of last week's Joe De Francis-Parris Glendening peace initiative, prominent members of Maryland's racing community expressed guarded optimism.

"We hope this is the opening of a new era of support and cooperation between the state and the racing industry," said Tim Capps, executive vice president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. "We hope all sides take seriously the effort to build the racing industry in Maryland."

The agreement calls for Glendening to support $10 million in state money for purses (from lottery proceeds) in exchange for De Francis' commitment to stop talking about slot machines, upgrade Pimlico and Laurel Park and improve management and marketing.

De Francis must submit a plan within 60 days. Glendening and the Legislative Policy Committee must approve it before releasing the purse money.

"From the racing community standpoint," said John Franzone, chairman of the state racing commission, "if the Maryland Jockey Club and Joe De Francis and company make some capital improvements, improve marketing and run their business, that's a good thing, that's a great thing, because they haven't done it."

Stuart S. Janney III, chairman of the state study commission on horse racing that criticized De Francis' management, said he was pleased that Glendening had decided to support the purse subsidies.

"Beyond that, I'm not sure there's really been fundamental change," Janney said. "I think a lot needs to be done. I'll be interested to see what the actual results are."

That's the thing to watch now.

De Francis must put down in black and white how he plans to upgrade his racetracks and improve their management. But what if he doesn't follow through? What could Glendening do? Deny the industry more purse money? That would only punish the horsemen, many of whom, unlike De Francis, supported the governor in his bid for re-election.

As this process moves forward, all segments of the industry should watch vigilantly to make sure everyone keeps their commitments. The saddest result would be that at the end of the day, nothing has changed.

Rosecroft's plans

Rosecroft Raceway was also part of the agreement between Glendening and racetrack owners. Tom Chuckas, general manager of the harness track in Prince George's County, said his company already has a renovation plan.

It includes refurbishing the clubhouse, building a state-of-the-art simulcast center, adding a food court, redesigning the entrance and lobby, upgrading the mechanical systems (heat, lighting, plumbing, ventilation and air conditioning), improving the kitchen and restaurant, developing a sports bar-video-billiards area, replacing several barns, providing executive suites and creating a family-entertainment section.

"It's a whole plan for the next five or 10 years," Chuckas said. "Live racing will remain the flagship, no doubt about it. But we want to develop multi-faceted, multi-purpose entertainment options."

Chuckas said that if the $10 million in state aid for purses is approved, Rosecroft's share will allow the track to maintain purses at $55,000 per day, or perhaps even raise them slightly. That compares to Rosecroft's major competitors in Delaware: Harrington Raceway $95,000 per day, Dover Downs $120,000 per day.

Passero to backstretch

John Passero can't get over his new title at Pimlico and Laurel Park: senior vice president -- racing surfaces and backstretch operations.

"I hope I can live up to the title, let alone the job," Passero said.

Regarded as one of the best, if not the best, track superintendents in the country, Passero has been in charge of the racing surfaces since 1987. And now, at the behest of De Francis, he has assumed responsibility for the stable areas at the two thoroughbred tracks and the Bowie Training Center.

"I want to apply the same principles to the stable areas that I do to the racing strips," Passero said. "When I want something done, I want it done. I never let anything compromise me."

Is he concerned about the lack of funds from the Maryland Jockey Club for backstretch renovations?

"I've told Joe this when we've discussed the racing strips," Passero said, referring to his boss, Joe De Francis, " `If you're looking for a guy to run this cheap, I'm probably not the best guy for the job.' I like to do quality work."

No Wood for Millions

Leon Blusiewicz, trainer of Millions, said Friday that he will not send the colt to Aqueduct for the Wood Memorial Stakes. Instead, he will race Millions in the Federico Tesio Stakes on April 17 at Pimlico. Even if he wins the Tesio, Blusiewicz said, he won't run Millions in the Kentucky Derby.

"I just don't want to push him" Blusiewicz said. "He's a nice horse. I stand behind him. I'm not discouraged. I know how to lose with a little grace."

Millions finished seventh last weekend in the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park. Blusiewicz said the colt's breathing was compromised by mucus in the lungs. Antibiotics cleared that up, he said, and Millions is ready to breeze any day.

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