The whole thing started with a couple of trainer Graham Motion's assistants (Adrian Rolls and Scott Hammond) and an exercise rider and tack repairman (Doug Leatherman) talking about shaving their heads in support of a good friend and nice person, Betsy Wells, who has cancer.
Then, said Anita Motion, Graham's wife, "It's just gone absolutely wild."
That friendly gesture by the backstretch trio will culminate in an auction, "head shave" and general party beginning at 6 p.m. today at the Mount Washington Tavern in Baltimore. The money raised will benefit Wells, a longtime horsewoman working as Motion's office manager, and possibly other cancer victims who work with horses.
Wells, 51, began chemotherapy four days ago for ovarian cancer. She spent the second half of the 1990s overcoming breast cancer. She rode show horses as a girl, galloped horses as a grown-up and worked with Barbara Graham, Jonathan Sheppard and Sanna Neilson. She's well-known and popular in the horse world.
"I have a lot of fun with people on the track," Wells said. "I just think it's a good way to be with people. I say `good morning' to everybody."
After undergoing a bilateral mastectomy in 1998, Wells underwent surgery March 21 for the removal of tumors associated with ovarian cancer. A self-described "go-getter," she has finally had to slow down.
"This is my biggest battle to date," she said. "But the doctors are very encouraging about my prognosis."
Wells has health insurance, and she remains on Motion's payroll. The original motive for soliciting pledges for head shaving was to raise money for Wells' general use - leftover medical bills or anything else.
That's still the purpose of the fund-raising effort. But any money left over will go into a fund for people who work with horses, contract cancer and aren't as prepared as Wells was.
Anita Motion, Bobby Lillis of the Maryland Horsemen's Assistance Fund and Phoebe Hayes of the Maryland Jockey Club will manage the fund, dubbed the Betsy Wells Cancer Support Fund. They've applied for non-profit status.
Already, they've collected $8,000, and that's not including pledges. They have no idea how much they'll raise tonight.
Money has been pledged to the handful of people, including the jockey Walter Cullum, who have agreed to have their heads shaved. Guest bartenders will include the trainer Gregg McCarron and the jockeys Mark Johnston, Nik Goodwin and Mario Pino.
Auctioneer Frank Russo will volunteer his services and offer numerous items for sale, including Orioles' and Redskins' tickets, an Xtra Heat horseshoe, four prime Preakness tickets, lunch for four at the track, racing memorabilia, much of it autographed, and a date with the jockey Jennifer Stisted.
And Betsy Wells is planning on being there. Anita Motion describes her as vivacious, kind and a friend to everybody, including the down and out.
"I am honored that this is in my name," Wells said. "I'm really excited to think that it will actually help people who don't have insurance. I'm very lucky to have so many friends. I know I'm in their thoughts and prayers."
Is the sky falling?
Delaware Park opened its slots casino at the end of 1995. Purses began rising almost immediately.
Every year since, whenever Delaware Park opened with a richer condition book, cries of "the sky is falling" were heard in Maryland. Yesterday, Delaware Park began its seven-month meet. Finally, those cries may be justified.
"I'm dreading it," says Georganne Hale, racing secretary at Pimlico and Laurel Park. "We've lost more horses than we ever have to Delaware Park, and no big outfits have come in to replace them. There are just not enough horses around for all these tracks."
Among the trainers transferring all or some of their horses to Delaware Park for the season are Ferris Allen, Dale Capuano, Scott Lake, Graham Motion, Mike Petro, Mark Shuman, Hamilton Smith and Jerry Thurston. Capuano has even sent a string to slots-rich Mountaineer Park in West Virginia.
Actually, Hale says, Charles Town, just across the state line in West Virginia, hurt Maryland racing more over the winter than Delaware ever has. She'll soon find out whether Delaware Park becomes the No. 1 nemesis this year.
"Hopefully, our horsemen will stay loyal and not hurt us too bad," Hale says. "They're not stupid. They know that bigger purses attract better horses. Sure, the purses are big, but you have to win to get them."
The Maryland Jockey Club will hold a news conference at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at Pimlico to announce heightened security measures for the May 18 Preakness. Representatives of the Baltimore police, FBI, Office of Transportation and National Guard will attend.
The Breeders' Cup will offer future wagers on all eight races that make up the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships Oct. 26 at Arlington Park in Illinois. Modeled after the Kentucky Derby future wager, Breeders' Cup future wagering will take place July 4-7, Aug. 9-11, Aug. 30-Sept. 2 and Sept. 20-22.
Frank Russo will conduct his annual auction of horse-related and racing memorabilia at noon May 19 in the Timonium grandstand.
Beginning Tuesday, normally a dark day, Pimlico and Laurel Park will begin simulcasting seven days a week. On simulcast days (Mondays and Tuesdays) programs will cost $1.50, and hot dogs, soda and beer will be half price.
The Maryland Million will be held again this year at Pimlico. The 17th running of the series for Maryland-sired horses will be Sept. 21.