Preakness bittersweet for Md. natives in racing industry

Decline of racing in Maryland hard to ignore for trainers, jockeys, owners from state

  • Edgar Prado celebrates aboard Barbaro after winning the Kentucky Derby in 2006. Owned by Tony Dutrow's brother Rick, Barbaro suffered a broken leg at the 2006 Preakness.
Edgar Prado celebrates aboard Barbaro after winning the Kentucky… (AP photo )
May 16, 2010|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

On a grand, blue-sky day at Pimlico Race Course, trainer Tony Dutrow said it was easy to imagine that horse racing in Maryland is as vibrant now as when he was a boy tending barns for his father 40 years ago.

But Dutrow knows better.

It's often bittersweet for him -- and other former Marylanders such as jockey Edgar Prado -- to return to the state where racing once thrived and experience its decline firsthand.

"You don't feel the atmosphere the same way," said Prado, 42, who rode Yawanna Twist to a fourth-place finish in Saturday's Preakness. "I think the glory and the beautiful days of racing here are long gone."

While the Preakness has remained in Maryland, the state industry has suffered as slot machines have helped boost horse racing in other states. Maryland struggles with smaller fields and purses.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and other state leaders have vowed to preserve the racing industry in Maryland, where it has a rich history.

Prado regularly rides these days in New York. While he was happy to be back -- trying to win the Preakness for the first time in 14 tries -- he shook his head and smiled when asked about the climate for racing in Maryland.

"A lot of my friends had [horse] farms that no longer exist," he said in the jockey room before a Preakness preliminary race.

Dutrow, 52, also couldn't help but look back. He grew up in Howard County as the son of Dick Dutrow, one of Maryland's most successful trainers in the 1970s. Beginning in 1973, the elder Dutrow took the title for most wins at Laurel Park in four consecutive years. He died of cancer in 1999.

Dutrow's brothers, Rick and Sydney, also are trainers. Rick -- trainer of Yawanna Twist -- oversaw Big Brown when the horse won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2008.

Tony Dutrow, the eldest of the brothers, said the Preakness -- Maryland's largest sports event -- masks the reality facing state racing the rest of the year. "There's no attendance, [Pimlico] is falling down, the purses are depleted. The [state] government turned its back on Maryland racing," he said.

Tony Dutrow has horses in New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

He said slots have "been the savior of every other racetrack outside of Maryland. It's been seven, eight years [that Maryland considered slots] and I have no hope. My advice to people in Maryland is to go somewhere else, and I practiced what I preached by leaving six years ago."

While Maryland has approved slots, the machines aren't planned at Pimlico or Laurel. But gambling at the Laurel racetrack could include slots if voters reject the machines at Arundel Mills mall in a November referendum.

"When my dad was racing here, it seemed like there was a lot more people," Rick Dutrow said. "That's when Maryland racing was thriving. I've been to a bunch of Preaknesses, so I like it. This is where it belongs."

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