Showdown set on Colonial Downs meet

ON HORSE RACING

Horse Racing

March 25, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

On the record, they say the fight over Maryland racing dates will be "contentious." Off the record, they say it may be a "bloodbath."

On Wednesday, representatives of the Maryland Jockey Club will ask the state's racing commission for permission to cease racing at Pimlico and Laurel Park for parts of June and July so that thoroughbreds can race at Colonial Downs.

Situated between Richmond and Williamsburg, Va., Colonial Downs has set its meet from June 9 to July 14. Because the Maryland Jockey Club manages racing at Colonial Downs, the MJC wants to shut down racing here for those five weeks.

However, the board of directors of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association has voted to oppose that schedule. Instead, the MTHA wants to preserve summer racing in Maryland and race this fall at Colonial Downs.

Since opening in 1997, Colonial Downs has run its thoroughbred meet in the fall.

John Franzone, chairman of the racing commission, told officials of the MJC and the MTHA last fall to settle their differences in private. But meetings between the two sides have failed to produce agreement.

"There's been no change in anybody's position," said Alan Foreman, counsel to the MTHA, composed of thoroughbred owners and trainers.

According to official statements of the MTHA, its board of directors opposes running this summer at Colonial Downs because of a projected loss to the Maryland purse account, loss of summer turf racing in Maryland, competition to Laurel Park in the fall from professional football and the difficulty of transporting horses to Virginia during vacation season.

Leaders of Virginia racing have received the go-ahead from their commission to run in the summer. They want to avoid competition in the fall from NASCAR, college football and other events, and to capitalize on summer tourism. The track is about 20 miles from Colonial Williamsburg.

The meet would be shorter than last year's, despite pressure from Virginia racing commissioners and legislators to increase racing days. A task force representing various segments of racing in Maryland and Virginia agreed to run only 25 days (compared to 32 days last year) and hike purses to $200,000 a day.

According to Anne Poulson, who heads the task force, a loan to help fund purses has been secured.

"We feel comfortable on the financial end," Poulson said.

Now, she said, all that's lacking is support from the MTHA. She said that everyone else seems to support at least trying the summer meet.

Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, said he believes running in Virginia in the summer is "a good compromise and a good experiment."

Said Franzone: "We're prepared to hear the arguments. The MTHA is going to go after it with all they've got, in their words."

The meeting of the racing commission will begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Timonium fairgrounds.

Afterward, the commission will reconvene the hearing to determine whether to issue a license to build a track in Allegany County. The commission has set aside three days to complete the hearing.

Sprite as ever

John's Call, the venerable gelding who won Grade I stakes last year at 9, will race again at 10, said his trainer, Tom Voss.

As usual, John's Call has spent the winter at Voss' farm in Monkton. He spends the days in a large field with other horses and the nights in his stall - "when we can catch him," Voss said, laughing. "Sometimes, it takes about an hour, but we always get him."

Voss said John's Call has spent so much time galloping on his own that "he's probably 50 percent fit. I'm going to stick my neck out and say he's in better shape this year than he was last year."

Voss will start training John's Call in about a week, first by jogging him with a rider and then by galloping him. He will look for a race in July as a prep for the Grade I Sword Dancer in August at Saratoga. John's Call won that race last year.

Voss continues to marvel at John's Call. He said he was on horseback a couple of weeks ago and watched as John's Call enticed three or four horses to run with him.

"He started by playing with them, and then they'd run off through the field. After wearing down one, John's Call would go pick on another.

"The other ones looked like they were taking two strides to his one, and he was just galloping," Voss said. "He's an amazing horse."

Around the tracks

On April 3, the first of 13 half-hour shows chronicling life at Bonita Farm will air on the Animal Planet cable channel. Titled "Thoroughbred," the series will feature various aspects of the Boniface family operation of the picturesque farm in Darlington.

I'll tell you more about it next Sunday, but for now, mark your calendars. The show is terrific. It will air at 8 p.m. on 13 consecutive Tuesdays. ...

Xtra Heat, the little filly from Maryland, keeps scaring off horses in big, bad New York. Only three horses will challenge her today in the $100,000 Cicada Stakes at Aqueduct.

Trained (and co-owned) by John Salzman at Laurel, the 3-year-old Xtra Heat has won 10 of 11 races. Salzman and his partners offered her for sale in a recent online auction run by a company in Kentucky. Bidding reached $1.06 million, but that fell short of her reserve, which Salzman declined to reveal. ...

Tomorrow, Burning Roma will arrive back in Maryland at the Laurel barn of his trainer, Tony Dutrow. Fresh from two victories at Tampa Bay Downs for his Florida owner, Harold Queen, Burning Roma will prep for the Preakness in the Federico Tesio Stakes on April 21 at Pimlico, Dutrow said. ...

Today, closing day at Laurel, is fan appreciation day. Admission is free, a Laurel program is 50 cents, and certain seat, parking and concession prices are reduced.

Pimlico opens Wednesday.

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