Dutrow exits Laurel a winner

`Strike' gives trainer best winning percentage

Pimlico starts Wednesday

Horse Racing

March 26, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The man approached Tony Dutrow outside the winner's circle yesterday after the final stakes of the winter meet at Laurel Park.

Dutrow, who closed the meet with the highest winning percentage of any trainer, couldn't believe his ears when the man asked for his autograph. After signing the man's program, Dutrow said that was the first autograph he'd ever given.

If you want to ask him for the second, you'll have to catch him at Pimlico. That's where thoroughbred racing resumes Wednesday after ending its five-month run at Laurel.

On closing day at the track between Baltimore and Washington, the Dutrow-trained Strike It Up captured the Wide Country Stakes with a well-timed, powerful effort under veteran jockey Mario Pino.

The victory by the 3-year-old filly put the partners of Skeedattle Associates - Willie White, Bob Orndorff and Lou Rehak - into the winner's circle two days after they retired their star filly, Gin Talking, because of a tendon injury.

No one expects Strike It Up to be another Gin Talking, who was the Maryland-bred Horse of the Year in 2000. But Dutrow said the Wide Country winner could more than pay her way running in minor stakes in Maryland.

"She's doing the best she can," Dutrow said. "I don't know how much better she can be than she was today."

A Kentucky-bred daughter of Smart Strike and Bishop's Mate, Strike It Up beat four horses in another race with a small field. She was 4-5, runner-up Sunshine In Paris was 2-1, and third-place finisher Sweep Dreams was 5-2. That produced $10.80 exacta and $14.20 trifecta payoffs.

Even though minuscule payoffs from five-horse races do not inspire gamblers, betting figures for the winter meet (Jan. 1 through yesterday) show that Maryland racing is holding its own.

Compared to the same period last year, wagering in Maryland on thoroughbred racing dropped .9 percent ($109,113,690 this year compared to $110,074,941 last year), while wagering out-of-state on Laurel races increased about 7 percent ($91,234,783 this year compared to $85,197,513 last year).

"This shows the business is sort of status quo," said Jim Mango, a Maryland Jockey Club executive vice-president. "We're seeing across the country that business at tracks is pretty much level."

Lou Raffetto Jr., MJC chief operating officer, said he wants to see betting increase on Maryland races.

"What we have to do is improve our live product to make it more enticing," Raffetto said. "We're working to put on more competitive races with fuller fields."

NOTES: Ramon Dominguez won 70 races to lead Laurel jockeys during the winter meet. Travis Dunkelberger won 65, Mark Johnston 62, Harry Vega 58, Pino 42 and Jeremy Rose, the promising apprentice, 39.

Rose, however, was suspended yesterday by the track's stewards for five days for what they deemed careless riding in Friday's sixth race at Laurel. Rose's mount Pulverizing Jr. drifted off the rail into the path of Photo midway down the homestretch.

Dunkelberger led the jockeys in win percentage (24.2), followed by Rose (22.3) and Rick Wilson (22.1).

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