Tom Voss gained international recognition as the trainer of John's Call, the gallant old gelding that made fans around the world. But Voss, who trains at his Atlanta Hall Farm in Monkton, remains something of a secret as an accomplished and respected steeplechase trainer.
Racing over jumps is a sport revered by followers but overlooked by most sports fans, even mainstream horse racing enthusiasts. That's why the Colonial Cup today at Springdale Race Course in Camden, S.C., has generated little interest outside steeplechase circles.
Yet the 2.75-mile race over brush fences features Quel Senor, the Voss-trained French-bred and leading contender for steeplechase horse of the year, and four other Grade I winners. A dozen horses have been entered.
"These are the best there are," Voss said. "This is like the Breeders' Cup Classic."
Voss has horses in all five races at Springdale. A win or two would ensure his third title as leading steeplechase trainer by wins. With seven jump races remaining this year, Voss boasts 22 wins, two more than the nearest challenger. Voss led U.S. steeplechase trainers in wins in 1997 and 2000. In 1997, he also led in earnings.
With the winner's share ($60,000) of the Colonial Cup's $100,000, Quel Senor would become the year's richest steeplechaser. He also would clinch Horse of the Year honors, if he didn't Oct. 20 with an overpowering win in the $250,000 Breeders' Cup Steeplechase, the nation's richest jump race, before 45,000 in New Jersey.
Voss bought Quel Senor for his New Jersey owners last year from Neil Drysdale, the thoroughbred trainer. Quel Senor had raced on the flat and over jumps in this country and in Europe. Voss liked his rugged looks.
"He's a big, tough-looking horse ... tough to find in this country," Voss said.
The 6-year-old gelding was an inconsistent jumper, but "he definitely had speed and class," Voss said. "I never schooled a horse [over jumps] as much as I schooled him." The training paid off for Voss and Quel Senor. The Colonial Cup is a tough race, Voss said, "but if he runs his race he'll be tough to beat."
As for John's Call, retired this summer at 10, life is good. He spends his days in a field with equine buddies and his nights in a quiet country stall. "He's doing great," Voss said.
Efforts by the harness and thoroughbred factions to resolve disputes over revenue sharing and simulcasting have slowed to a crawl, said Lou Ulman, Maryland Racing Commission chairman.
Despite a series of racing commissioner meetings, the sides might fail to fulfill an order by the commission to settle differences.
"It's not looking very promising," Ulman said.
If the factions haven't reached agreement by the commission's Nov. 26 meeting, commissioners will have to decide how to respond to Casper R. Taylor Jr., speaker of the House of Delegates. He instructed the industry to settle its disputes by Nov. 1. The implied threat was that if it didn't, chances of regaining a state purse supplement would be lost.
The Nov. 26 gathering is in Frederick so commissioners can begin their final hearing on the proposed racetrack in Western Maryland. After their regular business meeting at 11 a.m., commissioners will begin hearing testimony about 2 p.m. on the proposed track.
The commission has decided already that a track in Allegany County would be economically feasible. William Rickman Jr. and his father, William Rickman Sr., have proposed building a small track for summer racing supported by a network of off-track-betting centers. The Rickmans own Delaware Park and the Ocean Downs harness track.
Testimony at this hearing will focus on "the nuts and bolts of operating a racetrack," said Ken Schertle, Maryland Racing Commission executive director. Schertle said he had no idea how long the hearing would last but that the commission had set aside the entire week for it.
The commission will meet in the Frederick County commissioners' meeting room in Winchester Hall, 12 Church St., in Frederick.
After noticing that Charlie Huff, the 11-year-old Maryland-bred gelding, was eased Oct. 20 at Penn National in his 97th start, Rick Bowman, who lives in Virginia, took actions that resulted in ReRun obtaining the hard-knocking gelding. ReRun is one of a handful of organizations that finds homes for retired racehorses.
Charlie Huff ran 85 of his 97 races in Maryland. He won 16 and earned $148,270. He's on his way to ReRun's farm in Carlisle, Ky. Another retirement group, the Exceller Fund, will pay for Charlie Huff's care until ReRun finds him a new home.
Robert E. Meyerhoff's Include will make his final start of the year Friday in the Grade II $400,000 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. Pat Day will ride. Bud Delp, trainer of the 4-year-old Include, said that Meyerhoff has decided to race Include again next year.
The Maryland sprinter Disco Rico, retired after breaking his left foreleg, probably will stand at stud in Maryland but, possibly, New York, said his Massachusetts owner Joe DiRico. DiRico was to visit three Maryland farms today as possible breeding homes for his speedy 4-year-old.
Mamie Privett of Havre de Grace earned $5,000 and Jim Staub of Baltimore $2,000 in the Maryland Jockey Club's $10,000 Champions Handicapping Contest Nov. 4 at Laurel Park. They will join Tim O'Leary of Newville, Pa., and Mike Warren Lasky of Hunt Valley, who won an earlier contest at Pimlico, as the MJC team in the $200,000 Daily Racing Form/ National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship Jan. 24-26 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.