Gill has second thoughts, says he's in game to stay

ON HORSE RACING

September 14, 2003|By TOM KEYSER

Embroiled in controversy, Michael Gill said in the spring that he was getting out of the business. He said again this summer that he was getting out, but only if he found a buyer for his entire operation.

Now, the nation's leading owner of thoroughbreds - and the dominant owner in Maryland racing - says he's not getting out at all. In fact, he says he's going to be bigger than ever.

"I'm in for the long haul," he said Thursday in a telephone interview from New Hampshire, where he lives and owns a hugely successful mortgage company.

He was quoted by The Blood-Horse as saying: "I'm coming back bigger and badder." And The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post quoted him as saying: "The ultimate goal is to go as far as my ego can take me."

Gill credited Maryland with allowing him to stay in the business. When other tracks barred his horses, Maryland officials welcomed them. Gill has 100 horses stabled at Laurel Park and the Bowie Training Center.

"It doesn't matter to me whether Maryland gets slots or not," Gill said. "I'll always be in Maryland. I'm not forgetting that they gave me stalls when other tracks wouldn't."

Several tracks denied him stalls after controversy arose this winter at Gulfstream Park. Gill and Mark Shuman, one of his trainers, set records for wins, using an aggressive claiming style that aggravated other trainers.

Then, after one of Gill's horses broke a leg in a race and was euthanized, a veterinarian of Gill's cut off part of the horse's leg without authorization. The vet was banned from the track. Accusations flew back and forth until Gill sued Gulfstream Park over what he contended was mishandling of the case.

After that, Delaware Park not only refused to give Gill stalls, but also prohibited him from racing horses there. Gill sued Delaware Park.

He bought a farm in Pennsylvania with 40 stalls and then added 100. Shuman runs the operation there, and by shipping to Monmouth Park, they have dominated the trainer and owner standings. Gill plans to send 80 horses this fall to race at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

He says he's more committed than ever before because he loves racing, loves being No. 1 and loves his 2-year-olds. He says that this year he has spent about $6 million for 60 2-year-olds and that he believes he has some of the top juveniles in the country.

His 2-year-old filly, Forest Music, who will debut today in the ninth race at Pimlico Race Course, may be the best juvenile filly in the country, Gill said.

Career winding down

Mineshaft, the powerful winner of last weekend's Woodward Stakes, will be retired at the end of the year. The 4-year-old son of A.P. Indy will enter stud at Lane's End farm in Kentucky.

Trained by Neil Howard, Mineshaft, who also won the Pimlico Special, is tied with Candy Ride atop the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's rankings for the Breeders' Cup Classic. The Classic will take place Oct. 25 at Santa Anita Park.

Mineshaft and Candy Ride, winner of the Pacific Classic, head the list, followed by Medaglia d'Oro, Empire Maker, Funny Cide, Congaree, Moon Ballad, Ten Most Wanted, Peace Rules and Volponi.

John Scanlan, the Laurel-based trainer, said he still hopes to make the Classic with Toccet, who finished fifth Sept. 1 in the Pennsylvania Derby on a muddy track. Scanlan said the track wasn't to blame; he was.

"You can't blame the horse when the trainer screws up," Scanlan said yesterday. "I just asked for too much too soon. I got greedy."

Toccet had run just 13 days before, after returning from eight months off. Scanlan said Toccet's next race will be the Hawthorne Gold Cup on Sept. 28 or the Indiana Derby on Oct. 4.

After that, he hopes to run Toccet in the Breeders' Cup Classic. That, again, will be asking a lot. "I can't remember so much talent, so many tough horses, going into one race," Scanlan said.

Michael Dickinson, who trains at his farm in Cecil County, said the undefeated Soto isn't being pointed to the Classic.

On Aug. 9, Soto captured the West Virginia Derby, setting a track record, for his fifth straight victory. He will run Saturday in the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs. A trip to Dubai for the World Cup in March is a possibility, Dickinson said.

Down the stretch

Lou Raffetto Jr., chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, said he and track executives will decide this week whether to close Pimlico from Thanksgiving until the end of February, forcing the transfer of Pimlico's 400 horses to Laurel, Bowie or private farms.

Closing the backstretch for three months, Raffetto said, would save the track money and allow for barn upgrades and rodent eradication. In the past, when management tried to shutter Pimlico for the winter, horsemen protested vehemently.

As part of its backstretch-refurbishment program, the MJC plans to demolish the abandoned clubhouse at Bowie beginning the second week in October. The job is expected to take six weeks.

TVG, the interactive racing network, has filed a countersuit against Magna Entertainment Corp., parent company of the MJC, in the continuing fight over broadcast rights to Maryland races. In July, MJC sued TVG, claiming breach of contract, setting into motion what will likely be a protracted legal battle.

Magna has unveiled plans for a $100 million racetrack and entertainment complex near Detroit that would be called Michigan Downs. Before construction can begin, Magna must obtain a second racing license in Michigan. It already owns Great Lakes Downs.

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