Opportunity knocks for jockeys in Md.

On Horse Racing

August 01, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

With Edgar Prado riding full time at Saratoga, gamblers at Maryland races will see fewer over-bet favorites and Maryland jockeys will find more openings on better horses.

"I think it's a good opportunity for everybody, including Edgar," said Mark Johnston, one of the jockeys poised to claim Prado's top spot. "It can't do anything but help riders in Maryland, whether they're first in the standings or 20th.

"You'll have the trickle-down effect. I might ride Edgar's horses, but somebody's going to ride mine. And those horses win, too."

After dominating Maryland racing throughout the 1990s, Prado relocated to Saratoga for the summer meet. He began riding there Wednesday. It didn't take him long to break the ice.

Prado won Thursday with Traffic Circle, a good one to win with, because John Kimmel trains Traffic Circle. Kimmel is the trainer who invited Prado to Saratoga. The more horses Prado rides from Kimmel's barn, the greater chance he has of succeeding -- and remaining -- in New York.

Maryland trainer Dale Capuano, who frequently employed Prado, said that Prado has the talent to ride with the Jerry Baileys of the world. The key for Prado -- and his agent, Steve Rushing -- will be securing mounts on good horses.

Capuano, Johnston and others said they believe that Prado will not return to Maryland, that he will stay in New York even after Saratoga ends its 36-day meet on Labor Day.

"I don't think he'll be back -- if he sticks with it," Capuano said. "He was overwhelmingly the best rider here. There he's just one of the gang. In the beginning, he's going to be the one sitting out."

And that won't sit well with Prado, said Mario Pino, the jockey most likely to battle Johnston for most wins.

"Edgar likes to ride eight, nine, 10 races a day, and then ride at Delaware on his days off," Pino said. "Now, he's riding four or five a day. He might not even get warmed up."

Nearly all the jockeys here are getting more work. Frank Douglas was named on seven horses Friday and seven more today. In the past, he said, he might ride seven in one day every other month.

"We'd better save our money," Douglas said, smiling. "If Edgar comes back, we'll be relegated to the back seat again."

Douglas won his 1,000th race aboard Dr. Max in the fifth race July 14 at Laurel Park, a remarkable achievement for a jockey who nearly lost his life in a 1997 spill at Timonium.

"Making a thousand is a milestone," Douglas said.

And then, noting that he has won only once since, he said: "I think I'd better hurry up and get started on my next thousand."

Pimlico plans

As he briefed the Maryland Racing Commission last week on his $60 million improvement package, Joe De Francis said of his plans for the Pimlico backstretch: "We won't tear down any barns until these new barns are built. The plan is to replace stall for stall. We're not going to cut back stabling capacity."

The plan calls for tearing down the barns behind the Pimlico grandstand (a loss of 400 stalls) and building barns with 200 stalls on the other side of Pimlico as well as barns with 200 stalls at Laurel Park. That should all happen by the 2001 Preakness, De Francis said.

C. Frank Hopkins, a member of the commission, asked De Francis about a current problem, overflowing manure pits on the backside at Pimlico. Hopkins said he recently watched a rat saunter from a pit into a barn.

"He's not afraid," Hopkins said. "He just walks right in."

De Francis said that John Passero, in charge of the barn area, was working on a cleanup plan.

De Francis also said that rebuilding the turf course at Laurel Park was the last item cut from the improvement plan. "If we had an extra $5 million," he said of rebuilding the course, "that's what we'd do."

Jim Mango, Maryland Jockey Club chief operations officer, told commissioners that by the beginning of the year he hoped to institute free general parking at Pimlico and Laurel Park. Free general admission is also in the works. But that, Mango said, "is down the road a ways."

Finally, De Francis said, he hopes to implement the revenue-sharing agreement soon to be signed with Rosecroft Raceway by the middle of October, when racing returns to Laurel Park after the Colonial Downs break. How will this affect patrons at Pimlico and Laurel Park?

Those betting thoroughbreds at night will no longer have to use machines; they can bet with mutuel clerks. There will be more security. More areas of the tracks will be open. And food will be better, De Francis said.

Testafly takes a shot

The Grade I $600,000 Whitney Handicap today at Saratoga features Behrens and Victory Gallop and Testafly.

"If I didn't think he had a chance to win," said Dale Mills, the Laurel Park-based trainer of Testafly, "I wouldn't be sending him. I go for all or nothing."

Said J. D. Brown, one of Testafly's owners: "We're keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for the best. I'll be doing my rain dance."

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