For trainers' sake, Gill says he'll take time selling stable

ON HORSE RACING

Horse Racing

April 27, 2003|By TOM KEYSER

Mike Gill, who announced Friday he is getting out of the horse business, said he initially wanted to sell his 300 horses at auction. But after talking to his three trainers, he said, he decided to get rid of his horses gradually over the next two years.

"They've stuck with me through everything," Gill said. "I definitely owe them some patience."

Gill's trainers are Jerry Robb at Laurel Park, Gamaliel Vazquez at Bowie and Mark Shuman, who just concluded his record-setting meet at Gulfstream Park. He and Gill won more races at Gulfstream than any other trainer and owner in history.

Gill lives in New Hampshire and owns an extremely profitable mortgage company. He said owning horses -- and winning more races than any other owner in the country -- has lost its fun because of the controversy engulfing him.

Tracks throughout the mid-Atlantic and Northeast have denied him stalls. He has sued Delaware Park, which banned him from even racing there. And he has sued Gulfstream Park, which he claims defamed him over an incident this winter.

One of Gill's vets amputated the leg of a Gill-owned horse who broke a leg while racing and was euthanized. Gill claims the track withheld a report that would have exonerated him, while other tracks used the incident to deny him stalls.

Robb, a veteran horseman who trains about 50 of Gill's horses, reacted with disgust at what has transpired.

"I think it's a disgrace," Robb said. "The last thing this industry needs to do is chase out people who spend the kind of money he does. All he does is get bashed for winning races, but he spends the money to win them.

"He never ever complains about any money you spend on the health of a horse. I'd say he's a dream owner."

Gill said he won't claim anymore horses. As he disperses the ones he has, through claims and private sales, they probably will end up with Robb, he said, until the last one's gone.

On Stronach's team

Justin Nixon won with the first horse he saddled for Frank Stronach in Maryland. That was April 16 at Pimlico, Rain Drummer in the first race. Since then, Nixon, 34, has saddled one other Stronach horse at Pimlico and finished out of the money.

Nixon is one of numerous Stronach trainers around the country. He has about 20 horses for the wealthy owner at Laurel Park. Richard Small has about 18 at Pimlico.

"He wants to support Maryland racing," Nixon said of Stronach, whose Magna Entertainment Corp. is majority owner of the Maryland Jockey Club. "Maryland is big among his priorities. That's why I'm here."

Nixon started working last fall for Stronach after training horses primarily at Fort Erie in Ontario, Canada. The young trainer spent the winter at Stronach's farm in Ocala, Fla., learning the Stronach way, and now he's looking forward to a successful stint in Maryland.

"There are some real nice pedigrees in this barn," Nixon said. "It ought to be an exciting summer."

Purse disparity

Delaware Park opened yesterday and will race Saturday through Wednesday with a post time of 12:45 p.m. The meet will run until Nov. 9. The $750,000 Delaware Handicap is set for July 20.

The track near Wilmington will offer purses as much as $10,000 more per race than Maryland's. For example, a maiden-special-weight at Delaware will pay $36,000. At Pimlico, it will pay $26,000.

Georganne Hale, the Maryland Jockey Club's racing secretary, said that turf racing at Pimlico will be its savior. David Rollinson, MJC stakes coordinator, said the problem will be the same as every other year.

"Sure it's going to hurt us," Rollinson said. "But I don't think it will be worse than any other year. We're still diluting the product -- two tracks trying to fill races out of the same pool of horses."

Around the tracks

Toccet, one of the most talented 3-year-olds who won't run in the Kentucky Derby, was expected to return today to his Laurel Park barn to continue training for a possible summer comeback. Ankle and foot problems forced the John Scanlan-trainee off the Derby trail.

Scanlan said Toccet resumed training last week at Adena Springs South farm in Ocala.

Nancy Alberts has backed off her training of Magic Weisner and hired an acupuncturist to work on the horse. The muscles in the gelding's rear, weakened by his bout with West Nile Virus, have not returned to full strength, the trainer said.

"He just wasn't right," Alberts said of last year's Preakness runner-up. "Some people tell me they don't think he'll ever be right again. I don't even let myself think like that. It's just taking time."

Pimlico jockeys will visit soldiers wounded in Iraq tomorrow at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

"We are going to tell them what a great job they did over there," said jockey Frank Douglas, who organized the trip. "It is our pleasure to show our support for these courageous individuals. What they do allows us to do what we do."

The fourth annual auction of horse racing memorabilia the day after the Preakness will feature paintings and sculptures from the estate of John D. Schapiro. The paintings, which hung at Laurel Park, can be viewed at www.russoracingauction.com. The auction will begin at 1 p.m. May 18 at the Timonium racetrack.

It took one race for Run Cat Run to show her stuff -- and earn Nancy and John Salzman a nice profit. After the 2-year-old filly by Sir Cat won her maiden race April 16 at Pimlico by 6 1/2 lengths, John Salzman, her trainer, sold her on behalf of her owner, Nancy, his wife, to the national racing syndicate Team Valor for $250,000, Salzman said. Salzman bought the mare Redeployed in foal with Run Cat Run for $3,500 at Timonium.

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