Laurel Park kicks off with feature surprise

8-1 Cynics Beware wins Find on opening-day card

June 24, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

After a break of two days -- or would that be a pause? -- thoroughbred racing resumed yesterday in Maryland when nearly 5,000 patrons congregated at Laurel Park and an unheralded horse named Cynics Beware captured the opening-day feature.

Pimlico ended its summer season Sunday with upturns in betting and attendance. That momentum carried over to Laurel Park as 4,901 customers, 5 percent more than last year, lined up for free admission and programs, dollar day at the concessions and the opportunity for investing in 10 live wagering events and countless others shown on TV.

They were for the most part frustrated by the $75,000 Find Handicap on turf when Cynics Beware, a 5-year-old gelding ridden by Mario Pino, prevailed by a nose at 8-1 in an exciting photo finish over the favorite, Hardy's Halo, and his jockey, Edgar Prado.

Racing will continue at Laurel Park until Aug. 27 when, without even a one-day "pause," it will shift Aug. 28 to Timonium. By then, assuming the Maryland Jockey Club's $60 million improvement plan is approved by state lawmakers, work will be under way at Pimlico transforming that 129-year-old track into a showcase for the Preakness, as promised in the plan.

Although the tearing down of barns at Pimlico and the building of new ones -- including an upscale stakes barn -- are not scheduled until late next year, Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, said he'd like to get all that done before the 125th Preakness in May.

"The last thing I want to do is raise expectations and make statements we're not going to be able to back up," De Francis said. "But we're going to work our tails off to get that done and to exceed other goals in the plan, as well."

Meanwhile, the ponies will run at Laurel Park. The highlight will be the $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash on July 17 when, if all works out, the best sprinter in the East, Yes It's True, will take on the best in the West, Reraise. For the first time, the De Francis Dash is designated Grade I, meaning it's one of the top races in the country.

But mostly, the summer meeting will be sustained by stakes lesser in value but no less important to jockeys, owners and trainers -- like yesterday's. Pino's victory with Cynics Beware was his third straight of the afternoon, and the consistent jockey had to take pleasure in beating the much-acclaimed Prado at the wire.

Of course, Pino wouldn't say that. But he steered Cynics Beware through a tight hole approaching the wire, a hole other jockeys might have avoided.

"Sometimes you've got to go for it," Pino said.

And Mary McGill, the trainer, and her husband, Charles McGill, were delighted, but likewise reserved in the winner's circle. Charles McGill, a lawyer, is one half of the Two Rivers Farm stable, which bred and owns Cynics Beware.

The Maryland-bred is one of four horses Mary McGill trains at Pimlico. This was his first stakes victory (after 20 races), although he has flashed dominant speed in his last several starts.

Asked whether Cynics Beware might be purely a stakes horse from now on, Charles McGill said, in the spirit of the sport: "If he continues to step up as he has, we'll let him take us where he will."

Pub Date: 6/24/99

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