Lines form in Cumberland over track

ON HORSE RACING

September 24, 2000|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

It won't be Liston vs. Clay, but it should provide Maryland racing fans some entertainment as thoroughbreds continue racing in other states.

On Wednesday, the Maryland Racing Commission will conduct a public hearing in Cumberland on the proposed horse track in Western Maryland. So many people want to speak that the hearing, which will start at 3 p.m., will probably run into the evening.

Said John Franzone, chairman of the racing commission: "We're getting quite a reaction. Hopefully, it won't be hostile."

He said he had received 50 to 60 letters about the proposed track - all in opposition.

"That's to be expected," Franzone says. "You've got anti-growth people, anti-noise, anti-traffic. You've got people with environmental concerns."

And you've got people who don't approve of gambling.

Franzone says he does expect business operators to speak in favor of the track.

The applicants for the license to build and operate the track will summarize their plans in 10- to 15-minute briefings. They are William Rickman Jr. and Joe De Francis.

Rickman, a Montgomery County developer and owner of Delaware Park, has applied for the license with his father, William Rickman Sr. They want to build a track on the eastern side of Allegany County, about 25 miles east of Cumberland.

De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, has applied for the license with Cloverleaf Enterprises, owners of Rosecroft Raceway. They have proposed building a track on the western side of Allegany County, about five miles west of Cumberland.

Each proposal calls for short thoroughbred and harness meets, presumably in the summer, and year-round simulcasting.

If the commission approves establishing a track at either of the sites, it would become the fifth horse track in Maryland.

Franzone says that public reaction will be one factor in the selection process. More significant may be the commission hearing in November or December where the applicants will meet in a more formal, court-like setting.

At that as yet unscheduled hearing, the commissioners will consider reports from the Maryland Stadium Authority about the proposed track's site and construction. They will also hear from consultants about the track's financial viability. If the outlook is gloomy, neither plan would get the go-ahead.

"We don't want to be the commission that grants a license for a track that doesn't get off the ground or goes belly up in a year," Franzone said. "We'll do what our charter says: Do what's best for Maryland racing."

Although House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who lives in Cumberland, has made it clear he wants a track in his home county, his desire will not sway commissioners, Franzone said.

"It has nothing to do with Cas Taylor," he said. "This idea that everybody's under marching orders is ridiculous."

At 11 a.m. on the same day, the racing commission will hold its regular monthly meeting. That meeting and the public hearing that follows will take place at the Holiday Inn in Cumberland, 100 S. George St.

One item on the agenda is Rickman's application for the license to operate Ocean Downs, the harness track on the Eastern Shore. Rickman is buying the track from its current owner, Bally's, in hopes of launching into the construction of off-track betting parlors and the creation of a telephone-betting system.

Rickman said he will settle on the Ocean Downs' property about Oct. 15, assuming the racing commission grants his request for an operator's license.

Two turns decide it

Burning Roma, impressive winner of the Grade I Futurity Stakes last weekend at Belmont Park, will race next in the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity Stakes Oct. 8 at Keeneland, said the colt's trainer, Tony Dutrow.

Dutrow said he selected the Grade II, $400,000 Keeneland race at 1 1/16 miles over the Grade I $500,000 Champagne Stakes six days later at Belmont at the same distance for one reason: The race at Keeneland will be around two turns.

"It's best for my horse to get some two-turn experience if he's going to be good enough to run in the Breeders' Cup," said Dutrow, who is based at Laurel Park.

A successful outing at Keeneland would land Burning Roma, a Kentucky-bred son of Rubiano who is undefeated in three starts, a spot in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs.

John's Call to Belmont

One day before Burning Roma races at Keeneland, the gallant 9-year-old John's Call returns to competition in the Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont.

Even more than the Grade I rank and $750,000 purse, what caught Tom Voss's eye was the 1 1/2 -mile distance. The Monkton trainer believes that will be right up his gelding's alley, especially on soft turf.

And what about the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf, also at 1 1/2 miles, to which John's Call would have to be supplemented?

"We're not looking at anything," Voss said. "We'll just go along day by day, as we do with every horse."

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