Bad blood from stable debate is nowhere near finish line


October 19, 2003|By TOM KEYSER

The Maryland Racing Commission meeting on Tuesday at Laurel Park was quite a spectacle.

Trainers and horsemen were mad about having to move from Pimlico or having their stalls cut or eliminated at Laurel and Bowie. The horsemen's leadership was mad at Tom McDonough, the new, governor-appointed chairman of the commission, for his reluctance to let the horsemen speak.

McDonough accused fellow commissioner John Franzone, a constant critic of the Maryland Jockey Club, of grandstanding. And when Alvin Akman, a new commissioner also appointed by the governor, delivered his obscenity-filled diatribe seemingly attacking the horsemen for their accusations of discrimination, the world stopped.

After the meeting, tempers flared to the point that you had to wonder if a punch would be thrown.

Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, was enraged at Lou Ulman, a commissioner. After several minority trainers and horsemen accused the MJC of discrimination in the reassignment of stalls, Ulman raised the possibility that evidence of discrimination had been presented.

Two days later, Ulman said: "I'm not charging that there is discrimination. But based on the testimony we heard, I think we have an obligation to look into it."

And that's exactly what's happening now, or supposed to be happening. Lou Raffetto Jr., chief operating officer of the MJC, gave the commission a stack of documents that show the record of running horses in Maryland for every trainer at Pimlico, Laurel and Bowie.

Raffetto said Thursday he's more confident than ever that once commissioners examine the documents they'll see that stalls were reassigned or withdrawn based solely on participation in Maryland races.

Raffetto said he plans to talk with each commissioner this week. Assuming they accept his methods, he said, he will continue with the eviction of about 13 trainers and 65 horses from Bowie. They've been ordered out by Saturday for taking advantage of free stabling in Maryland while running too few horses in Maryland races, Raffetto said. He said he needs those stalls for trainers from New England coming for the winter with horses ready to run.

Then, the commission at its Nov. 11 meeting will decide whether to involve itself in the MJC's decision to close the Pimlico stables Nov. 29 until March 1. Commissioners must decide whether that's a business decision that's none of their business, or whether it is their business because of its negative impact upon Maryland racing.

That debate still rages outside the confines of the commission. Raffetto insists he can fill races this winter with Pimlico's barns closed. Trainers and the leadership of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association say they doubt that. They say there aren't enough stalls at Laurel and Bowie to sustain racing for three months and to provide loyal Maryland trainers the stalls they need.

As McDonough, commission chairman, said the day after the meeting: "I still believe the divisiveness exhibited is nothing but bad for Maryland racing. We're going to hang together or hang separately."

Down the stretch

Of the 11 races for Maryland-sired horses last Saturday at Laurel, horses sired by stallions at Northview Stallion Station won seven. What's more, they won seven of the eight stakes worth $100,000 or more.

As horses conceived in Maryland competed at Laurel, horses based in Maryland excelled out of the state. Last Saturday, horses based at Fair Hill captured stakes at Keeneland and Belmont Park.

Film Maker gave trainer H. Graham Motion his first Grade I victory by winning the $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland. Edgar Prado, the former Maryland star, rode the 3-year-old filly. Motion had made it a point to call Prado every time the jockey won a Grade I. Motion always said: "Save one for me." Prado did.

Also Saturday, the Fair Hill trainer Michael Matz continued his torrid run with Kicken Kris, saddling the 3-year-old colt to victory in the $150,000 Lawrence Realization Handicap, a Grade III stakes at Belmont. The colt provided Matz his first Grade I victory by winning the Secretariat Stakes two months ago at Arlington Park.

Last Sunday, the 2-year-old filly Spectacular Moon won her fourth straight race, the Grade II, $150,000 Astarita Stakes at Belmont, to remain undefeated. John Alecci owns and trains the filly at Laurel. He claimed her from Michael Gill and Jerry Robb two races ago.

Now, Spectacular Moon is for sale. Said Alecci: "The purse structure in Maryland does not justify having that caliber of horse stabled here."

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