Timonium does its part in Day at Races

On Horse Racing

September 05, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The openings and closings are dizzying, but rest easy: Somewhere, all the time, horses run for your pleasure.

Timonium closes tomorrow. Colonial Downs opens tomorrow.

Saratoga closes tomorrow. Belmont Park opens Friday.

Monmouth Park closes today. The Meadowlands opens tomorrow.

Ellis Park closes tomorrow. Turfway Park opens Wednesday.

Del Mar closes Wednesday. Well, you get the idea.

Tomorrow, most thoroughbred tracks will celebrate America's Day at the Races -- even as their patrons celebrate Labor Day by admiring the horses, gambling. drinking beer and casting losing tickets into the late summer breeze.

At Timonium, Bobby Lillis has coordinated the day's events, which include a raffle of sports and racing collectibles, jockeys signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans, a T-shirt toss and exhibits showcasing horse dentists, veterinarians, equine art and memorabilia of Northern Dancer and Native Dancer.

As Timonium concludes its annual 10-day fair meet, Colonial Downs throws its doors open tomorrow as thoroughbred racing returns to southern Virginia for the third year.

Colonial Downs has survived in spite of itself. Mismanagement, disputes with horsemen and the racing commission and large financial losses have failed to shutter the attractive, colonial-style track off Interstate 64 between Richmond and Williamsburg.

Despite persistent problems, John Mooney expects a successful meet. He is the Maryland Jockey Club executive who assumed management of the track this summer. Along with racing secretary Lenny Hale and track superintendent John Passero, Mooney has restored credibility to the operation.

For the first time, every stall on the backside -- 1,050 of them -- will be allocated for horses on the grounds or ship-ins. Horses are coming from Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and, of course, Maryland.

The attraction is the turf course, which Passero described as "fabulous, absolutely awesome."

Said Mooney: "The turf course has earned a reputation as one of the finest in the country, if not the finest. We plan on running 70 percent of the races on the turf."

Tomorrow, eight of the 10 races are on turf. As many as 24 horses were entered for a single race that can accommodate only 12 starters. In fact, nearly every race should feature a full field, including the $30,000 Virginia Stallion Stakes on dirt for Virginia-sired horses.

After slashing its stakes schedule to save money, Colonial Downs will offer only four open stakes -- all the same weekend: the $50,000 Zeke Ferguson Memorial steeplechase stakes on Oct. 1, the $75,000 Chenery Stakes and $200,000 Virginia Derby on Oct. 2, and the $75,000 Tippett Stakes on Oct. 3.

Mooney said he expects 7,500 customers tomorrow for opening day. Post time is 3 p.m. throughout the 25-day meet, with one exception: 1 p.m. Virginia Derby day. After tomorrow, Colonial Downs will race Friday through Tuesday until closing day Oct. 11.

Laurel Park reopens Oct. 13, with Maryland Million Day planned Oct. 16. During the five-week Colonial Downs meet, Pimlico, Laurel Park and the off-track betting parlors will be open every day except Tuesday.

Bally's on upswing

Bally's at Ocean Downs concluded its summer meet last night with a 10 percent increase in attendance and 4 percent increase in handle, said track president Dennis Dowd.

He said the handle would have risen more if not for a shortage of horses early because of competition from Colonial Downs, closing of the OTB at Cambridge and a decline in wagering on Ocean Downs' races at the beleaguered Poor Jimmy's in North East. As for the larger crowds (more than 1,900 a night), Dowd said, "That's big time in harness racing."

Ocean Downs attracted an enthusiastic crowd that not only stood for the national anthem, but also sang along -- and then roared as the horses and drivers surged toward the finish. Live music and T-shirt tosses contributed to the atmosphere.

During the off-season, Ocean Downs will offer simulcasting except on Tuesday, buffets Friday and Saturday night, Sunday brunch, country line dancing Saturday night and possibly bingo on Thursday. Dowd plans to lobby in Annapolis for continued state aid for purses.

"Without that," he said, "this business can't work."

Medical staff reinstated

As of Monday, the emergency-medical workers who staff the ambulances during training at Bowie, Pimlico and Laurel Park were reinstated as employees of the Maryland Jockey Club under the supervision of John Passero.

Passero. an MJC senior vice president, said several employees had returned after quitting last year when the MJC contracted the work to Dr. James A. D'Orta's International Medical Consultants. Passero said he has implemented "a new, fail-safe system" that has eliminated complaints of ambulance workers arriving late for work, sleeping in the ambulances and drinking coffee in the track kitchen while horses trained on the track.

Around the tracks

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