Incident gives Pimlico failing grade for security


Horse Racing

October 21, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

On the day when security at Pimlico was supposedly at its tightest - during last weekend's Maryland Million after terrorism warnings from the government - a car with three intruders followed a van carrying a top racehorse, Case of the Blues, past a security checkpoint into the Pimlico stables.

The intruders jumped out, threatened two grooms, chased one into a bathroom, where they allegedly assaulted him, and then ran yelling after the other groom through two barns of Maryland Million horses, at one point brandishing a board with exposed nails.

Daniel O'Neill, the owner of Harbor of Grace, an entrant in the $200,000 Maryland Million Classic, witnessed the disturbance on his first visit to the races at Pimlico. O'Neill, 65, works as a general contractor in San Francisco.

"Right in front of my horse, they were screaming and running up and down the shedrow," O'Neill said. "I've never seen anything like it in my 30 years of racing."

O'Neill said that Harbor of Grace, a Dale Capuano trainee entering the Classic off four consecutive victories, became so upset in his stall, pacing, rearing up and sweating, "that I knew he had no chance in the big race. He left his race right there in stall.

"I made a great effort to travel a long way to watch my horse run, and I had to witness this," said O'Neill, who owns 27 thoroughbreds for racing and breeding. "I think it was disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful."

Willie Coleman, vice president of security for the Maryland Jockey Club, declined to comment. He referred inquiries to Mike Gathagan, director of corporate and racing relations.

"The bottom line is that car should have been stopped at the gate," Gathagan said. "We have to review the policy so that security there on the backside can be improved."

According to interviews with van driver Charlie Harding, grooms David Santos and Jose Antonio Hernandez, and four other witnesses, the incident began on Northern Parkway about noon as Harding drove Case of the Blues and the grooms from Tony Dutrow's barn at Laurel Park to the stables at Pimlico.

Case of the Blues, a 4-year-old filly, was entered that afternoon in the Maryland Million Distaff. She won the $100,000 race, earning $55,000 for her Maryland owners.

This account was compiled from those interviews:

Two young men and a woman in a white car accused one of the grooms of throwing a bottle out of the van and breaking their windshield. (The grooms deny this.) The men got out of their car at two stoplights and threatened the grooms. They pulled their car in front of the van and slammed on the brakes, trying to make the van stop.

As the van pulled through two gates into the Pimlico stable, the car followed on its bumper. The first gate was a van entrance; the second was a security gate at which everyone who enters is supposed to display racetrack identification. The occupants of the white car were not asked for IDs.

Inside the stable, the intruders threatened the grooms, allegedly threw a punch and a bathroom trash can at one, somehow found a board with nails and loudly pursued the other groom through barns of valuable horses. Several of the horses became upset, circling in their stall, pawing the ground and trying to break through the stall webbing.

"All the horses got spooked," said Jason Libertini, a groom handling Harbor of Grace.

Track security and then several city police cars arrived in what witnesses said was a timely fashion. The grooms were handcuffed and arrested. Santos spent one night in jail, Hernandez two.

The intruders, however, were apparently not arrested, according to witnesses - even though witnesses said that they had initiated the backstretch ruckus. Despite repeated calls to the Baltimore police department public affairs' division, no information could be obtained about the incident or the intruders.

Wayne Bailey, a trainer from Bowie hauling his horses to Pimlico on Maryland Million day, followed the white car through the gates. He said that gate security at Bowie is excellent, that this would not have happened there. Dutrow, who trains Case of the Blues at Laurel Park, said that security at the Laurel gate was also first-rate.

"There was absolutely no excuse for that kind of behavior around a barn full of horses," Dutrow said. `There's really no excuse for such a lack of security, especially in these times."

More talks on closing

Leaders of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and executives of the Maryland Jockey Club met privately last week on the disputed matter of management's insistence on closing the Pimlico barns for the winter.

Asked whether anything was resolved, Alan Foreman, lawyer for the horsemen, said: "Discussions continue."

The horsemen have requested a hearing on the closure at the Maryland Racing Commission meeting Oct. 29 at Laurel Park.

Et cetera

The Maryland Jockey Club has introduced "Today at the Races," a daily handicapping show with Dave Rodman, the track announcer, as host.

It debuted Sept. 15 at Pimlico and continued for five consecutive Saturdays. When Laurel opened Wednesday, it began as a daily feature. It starts about noon, 35 minutes before first post, and runs about 15 minutes.

Laurel trainers Bud Delp and Graham Motion will meet again in a big race. The last time, two weeks ago at the Meadowlands, Motion's Broken Vow finished second and Delp's Include was third in the Meadowlands Cup.

This time, it will again be Broken Vow for Motion, but it will be Concerned Minister for Delp. They will meet Saturday in the Grade III $150,000 Fayette Stakes at Keeneland. Delp said that Concerned Minister emerged unscathed from his disappointing, seventh-place finish in the Maryland Million Classic.

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