Raffetto settles in slowly as jockey club's new CEO


Horse Racing

January 14, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Lou Raffetto Jr. said he's spending his first days as the Maryland Jockey Club's chief operating officer as if he were a sponge.

"I'm just taking in as much as I can," he said.

Raffetto, 50, started work Jan. 3 as manager of day-to-day operations at Pimlico and Laurel Park. He came to Maryland from Suffolk Downs in Boston, where he served as executive vice president of racing. Before that, he worked as racing secretary at Laurel from 1978 to 1984.

Raffetto said he considers himself a "student of the Maryland Jockey Club for a month." He said he doesn't plan on instituting major changes right away. However, he has already met with Georganne Hale, the racing secretary, to discuss changes designed to increase the size of the fields racing at Laurel.

"I'm embarrassed by it," Raffetto said, referring to the dearth of horses in many races.

He said the condition book, the blueprint for upcoming races, can be written so there's a "certain flow to it that maximizes the horses on the grounds." He said he's working with Hale to write such a book for the period beginning Feb. 14.

"I don't want to compete with Charles Town for cheap horses," Raffetto said. "We're going to write a condition book that encourages quality racing.

"Every horseman's probably not going to like it. But in the long run it will mean a better racing program. The fans are going to like it."

Raffetto said he will be accessible to fans and employees as he tries to improve worker morale and fan satisfaction.

"Hopefully, over time, we can improve the situation for everyone," he said. "We want to give fans the sense that we do want to respond to their concerns. You can't always give them what they want, but you can give them the time and listen to them."

At Suffolk Downs, Raffetto said, he was forced to work with thin resources on all fronts.

"I feel like a school kid coming in here," he said. "There's just so much potential here."

Short on cash

After purchasing 75 thoroughbreds at last month's Fasig-Tipton Midlantic horse sale at Timonium, Bernice L. Givens Sykes declined to reveal much about herself.

"If I win the Kentucky Derby, then you come back with all your questions," she said.

It looks as if the self-described real-estate developer from Waldorf won't be winning the Derby anytime soon. She has not paid for the 75 horses she bought for $431,100 at Timonium and the 59 she bought for $267,700 last fall at Keeneland.

Both Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland have dispatched their lawyers to the case.

"She owes a lot of people," Harvie Wilkinson, Keeneland's director of finance, was quoting as saying by Thoroughbred Times magazine. "She's cut a very large trench from Maryland to Kentucky."

Sykes reportedly owes the owner of Winning Ways Farm in Kentucky, where she sent most of her horses from both sales, as well as shipping companies and veterinarians.

Owners of the horses sold at Timonium have been calling Mason Grasty, executive vice president of Fasig-Tipton Midlantic, asking what's going to happen to their horses. Grasty said the company is considering reselling them at Fasig-Tipton's auction Feb. 12 in Lexington, Ky.

After Sykes startled the state's racing industry with her purchases at Timonium, The Sun reached the mystery buyer by telephone at her home in Charles County for a brief interview. Dialing that same number now prompts a recorded message saying that the phone has been disconnected.

Standouts move away

Two of Maryland's top hopes for Triple Crown races have left the state. Formerly trained by Tony Dutrow at Laurel Park, Global Gait has been sold to Beverly and Bob Lewis in California, and Burning Roma has been transferred to the care of his owner at Tampa Bay Downs.

Burning Roma won the Grade I Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park and finished an impressive fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Harold Queen, who resides on Florida's West Coast, owns the Rubiano colt.

Queen has brought Burning Roma home to run him in the Tampa Bay Derby in March. After that, Queen said, he'll return the colt to Dutrow for a possible try in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

"I'd prefer not to run him in the Derby," Queen said. "I think the Preakness is our best bet."

Queen was evasive about who will train Burning Roma at Tampa Bay Downs. But Dutrow said it won't be him. Dutrow said he's agreed to take back Burning Roma in mid-March.

Dutrow lost Global Gait, winner of three of four races by a combined 22 1/2 lengths, when the gelding's owner, Tom Sutton, sold him to the Lewises, the prominent California owners. Bob Baffert will train the Maryland-bred son of Concern.

Sutton, 47, an investment broker from Glyndon, said the Lewises asked him not to reveal the sales price.

"It was bittersweet," Sutton said of selling Global Gait. "In a perfect world, you want to keep a horse like that. But at the end of the day, financially it was the right thing to do."

Global Gait and Burning Roma were two of the 18 2-year-olds Dutrow saddled in 2000 for victories.

"I'm not taking anything away from the big boys," Sutton said, referring to top trainers such as Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas. "But that's about as good as it gets."


Maryland will be well-represented at the Eclipse Awards dinner Jan. 30 in New Orleans. Jim McKay will receive the Eclipse Award of Merit. Lemon Drop Kid, owned by part-time Marylanders Jinny Vance and Laddie Dance, is a finalist for Horse of the Year and a shoo-in for top older horse. The Tom Voss-trained John's Call is a finalist for outstanding turf horse. And Scott Lake, who trains about 50 horses at Pimlico, is a finalist for trainer of the year.

The Maryland Racing Commission will hold hearings Jan. 24, 25 and 26 to decide whether to issue a license for construction of a horse track in Allegany County. The hearing will take place at 312 Marshall Ave., an office building in Laurel on U.S. 1, one block south of Route 198.

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