MJC tries working on its people skills

ON HORSE RACING

Horse Racing

February 03, 2002|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Tom McQueen's appearance before the Maryland Racing Commission last month was obscured by the smoke still in the air from the clashes among commission members, executives of the Maryland Jockey Club and leaders of the horsemen's association.

It's a good thing for McQueen that his job isn't making peace among the bickering factions involved in Maryland racing. All he has to do is improve morale and customer service at Pimlico and Laurel Park.

McQueen is president and chief executive of CorVal Inc., a Florida consulting firm with this motto: Maximizing performance and profit through people.

The Maryland Jockey Club has hired McQueen to work with its employees, from senior management on down, and introduced him to the racing commissioners at their January meeting.

"I know there've been a lot of issues and criticisms of our customer service - some of it valid, some of it not valid," said Karin De Francis, a senior vice president and owner of Pimlico and Laurel Park. "[Hiring CorVal] was an outgrowth of our general recognition that our company could benefit from having a professional like Dr. McQueen come in and give us professional training in these areas."

McQueen began working with senior management last month, and his work with MJC employees will continue through March. After that, Katie Poole, MJC's assistant public relations director, will coordinate the effort.

The MJC also is close, De Francis said, to selecting a market research company that will have a twofold mission: finding out more about the tracks' customers and grading the tracks on customer service. Part of that task, she said, will involve customer surveys to identify "where our strengths are, and where our shortcomings are."

Dunkelberger tests N.Y.

Travis Dunkelberger, the nation's third-winningest jockey in 2001, wasted little time in 2002 before departing his home tracks, Charles Town and Laurel Park. He rode here until leaving on vacation Jan. 18, and when he returned, he relocated to New York. He began riding regularly at Aqueduct on Wednesday.

Steve Rushing, his former agent in Maryland, said Dunkelberger's foray into New York is a four-to-six-week trial. Rushing, who also books mounts for Ramon Dominguez, said he wouldn't try to team up with another jockey unless Dunkelberger decided to stay in New York.

Dunkelberger, 25, winner of 395 races last year, was lured to New York by trainer Scott Lake and owner Richard Englander. They were last year's winningest trainer and owner. Dunkelberger might have been the winningest jockey (Dominguez was with 431), if not for missing six weeks because of a broken collarbone and two weeks because of suspensions.

Watch Saratoga Blues

With three months left until the Kentucky Derby, the best hope from Maryland to make the Triple Crown series is Saratoga Blues, the undefeated colt trained by Tony Dutrow at Laurel.

After easily winning both races at 2 (the first at Laurel, the second at Aqueduct), the Kentucky-bred son of Twining and Time for a Wedding will make his 3-year-old debut in the $75,000 Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday. Dutrow said the pre-Derby goal is the Wood Memorial Stakes on April 13 at Aqueduct.

"Right now, I'm very serious about him," Dutrow said. "He's going to have to show us the way. But we feel he has all the tools a nice 3-year-old needs to run in these spring races."

Stallion showing

Country Life Farm near Bel Air will conduct a stallion showing Saturday of its six sires, including the all-star Allen's Prospect. In 2001, he led the nation's sires in winners (132) and the state's sires in progeny earnings ($4.9 million) for the third consecutive year.

Other stallions on display will be Carnivalay, Citidancer, Malibu Moon, Storm Broker and Unbridled Jet. Mare owners interested in breeding to a Country Life stallion should call the farm for details.

Et cetera

Fasig-Tipton Midlantic has catalogued 188 horses for its "winter mixed" sale at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Timonium fairgrounds. Twenty are from the estate of Robert Camac, the New Jersey horseman murdered two months ago.

Pleasant Divorce, the 4-year-old colt trained by John Scanlan at Laurel, will seek his first stakes win Saturday in the $500,000 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park. The race for older horses is the year's first Grade I stakes in the East.

With Monarchos retired and Lido Palace staying in California, the Donn suddenly has turned soft. Red Bullet, winner of the 2000 Preakness, might sneak in as the vulnerable favorite.

One week after the Donn, on Feb. 16, the first major East Coast stakes for 3-year-olds, the Grade I Fountain of Youth, takes place at Gulfstream.

That's also the weekend the Kentucky Derby future wager opens for its fourth year. Bettors can plunk down $2 on their Derby favorite during three three-day periods: Feb. 14-17, March 14-17 and April 4-7. The Derby is May 4 at Churchill Downs.

Pimlico and Laurel Park will open at 11 a.m. today, 30 minutes earlier than usual, so patrons can prepare for the noon cards from Gulfstream and Turfway Park. The early starts are because of the Super Bowl. The MJC will close both its tracks at 6 p.m. Kickoff for Super Bowl XXXVI is 6:30 p.m.

Trainer Michael Wright Jr. and jockey Harry Vega teamed up for three victories Friday at Laurel. Wright moved into second place in the trainer standings with 13 wins, three behind Dale Capuano.

Vega, who won four races Friday, tied Dominguez with 20 wins. Mario Pino and Jeremy Rose lead local jockeys with 25 wins each.

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