This time, De Francis is all smiles after Preakness

On Horse Racing

May 23, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Except for the man who impeded horses on the track at Pimlico -- and his family, friends and those directly affected -- few could say the 124th Preakness Stakes was anything but spectacular, from the weather to the racing to the result: a horse seeking the Triple Crown.

And no one could be more pleased about last weekend's event than Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club. Last year, when the power failed, he was the target of much criticism.

Of this year's Preakness, De Francis said that, other than the intruder on the track, "it couldn't have gone better if the Lord had given us a pen to write the script."

Preakness day abounded with records: 100,311 people at Pimlico (113,066 in attendance if you include Laurel Park and Rosecroft Raceway), in-state handle of $8,823,579 on Pimlico and simulcast races, out-of-state handle of $42,138,986 on Pimlico races, and total handle of $50,962,565.

De Francis attributed the Pimlico crowd -- the first time it exceeded 100,000 -- to the weather, the growing magnitude of the Preakness and the promotion by radio station WIYY-FM (98 Rock), sponsor of infield activities. As for the record handle, he said: "With all due modesty, I think this was the best racing card we've ever offered in the state of Maryland."

Missed opportunity

Phil Marino, trainer of Lead Em Home, said he's still kicking himself for not running the horse in the Preakness. The Pimlico-based Marino opted at the last minute for the Sir Barton Stakes the same day, and Lead Em Home won convincingly.

"I think he'd have been a close second in the Preakness," Marino said. "He might have even won it. He loves Pimlico. He's a horse for the course."

Marino said he ran Lead Em Home in the easier spot because of an experience two years ago in the Travers. His Affairwithpeaches finished last and later was found to have fractured a leg.

"It was almost an embarrassment to run that bad," Marino said.

He said he didn't want to risk another embarrassment for Sandi Kleemann, who owns the horses he trains. But now, in hindsight, he said he should have followed his instinct and run in the Preakness.

"You don't get that chance very often with a horse like this," Marino said. "I'm beside myself for not taking it."

Although published lists of horses possible for the Belmont Stakes include Lead Em Home, Marino said that is nonsense.

"I never said anything about the Belmont," he said. "It never crossed my mind."

Marino said Lead Em Home's main goal this summer will be the Travers on Aug. 28 at Saratoga.

Auction numbers down

The two-day sale of 2-year-olds-in-training last week at Timonium resulted in the first decrease in several years in that auction's average per horse and gross sales.

Mason Grasty, executive vice president of Fasig-Tipton Midlantic, said that 320 horses were sold this year, compared with 317 last year. Gross sales this year totaled $8,620,400, compared with $9,602,600 last year.

That means the average price this year was $26,939, compared with $30,292 last year.

The problem seemed to be too many horses, as 173 were not sold this year, compared with 112 last year. That's a difference of 61 horses. The catalog listed 56 more horses this year than last.

"It was a good sale for half the horses," Grasty said. "There was as much money, and it was as well attended -- if not better attended -- than any sale we're ever had."

The racing syndicate Team Valor paid top dollar, $360,000 for a Maryland-bred Polish Numbers colt out of the Spend a Buck mare Queen Crab. That tied the record for the most paid for a 2-year-old at Timonium.

Stonerside Stable paid the next highest, $180,000 for a Kentucky-bred Fly So Free filly out of the Stop the Music mare African Music.

Rosecroft's 50th

Rosecroft Raceway, the Prince George's County harness track that opened June 26, 1949, will celebrate its 50th birthday with a rousing party beginning Saturday and running through the next Saturday, June 5.

This coming Saturday the first 1,000 patrons will receive a 50th-birthday T-shirt, and every patron will receive a betting voucher. Worth $2 to $1,000, the vouchers can be used June 4. Fans who wear their birthday T-shirts will receive free admission June 5.

On June 3, Rosecroft will roll back the takeout on win, place and show bets to 6 percent, what it was in 1949. And 50 cents will be the price of admission, hot dogs, sodas and popcorn. The dining room will offer a prime-rib dinner for $5.

On June 4, 10 fans will pull two of the 50 candles from a birthday cake. Each candle will be numbered 1 through 50. If the numbers of one fan's candles match two previously determined numbers, that fan will win $1 million. Also, a "Happy Birthday Hour" will feature 50-cent draft beers, hot dogs and sodas. A fireworks display will follow the races. Gov. Parris N. Glendening is expected to attend the evening's festivities.

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