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Fans invited to Laurel 'Town Meeting' De Francis seeks suggestions on improving track service


LAUREL -- Tom Lattanzi is thinking of staging a "How To Get Rid of the Sea Gulls" contest.

The former weekend sports anchor on Baltimore television has been in his job of fielding customer complaints at Laurel Race Course for about a month.

"At least once a week, we get a complaint about the sea gulls. They fly in during the afternoon and either eat someone's food or engage in some other form of rude behavior," he said.

But before the annihilation of the birds becomes a hot topic, another one of Lattanzi's ideas is about to unfold.

This weekend the track is holding its first "Town Meeting." On Sunday, fans are encouraged to air their gripes in a one-hour forum before track operator Joe De Francis and 15 of his department heads.

"We want to know the ways that we can be better, to be as good at customer service as Giant Food or Disney World," Lattanzi said.

The meeting is being held from 11 a.m. to noon in the clubhouse theater. Those who show up for the start of the meeting will be admitted to the track free. De Francis will moderate the program and Damon Thayer, the track's publicist, will take questions from the crowd.

Already, Lattanzi said he has dealt with about 750 suggestions filed in suggestion boxes around the grandstand. The track also has six courtesy phones available to take fans' comments. "Some things can be dealt with immediately," Lattanzi said. "Some things just require a simple explanation."

Some of the suggestions that the track has acted upon include adding more parking spaces for the disabled and cleaning the side windows in the grandstand.

"This is going to be the first of many town meetings," Lattanzi said. "One is scheduled at Pimlico, right after the track opens for live racing March 26. We might limit future forums to specific issues, such as food service or types of betting. We want the customers to know that we care and that we will respond to their suggestions."

* Controversy seems to be following the filly Wide Country.

First, she was the victim of what many observers felt were unfair weight assignments last weekend in the Barbara Fritchie Handicap, which she subsequently lost to Wood So.

Now, she has been named Maryland-bred Horse of the Year, but at the expense of three Grade I stakes winners.

Wide Country won eight stakes races in Maryland last year, but her top effort came in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, rated only Grade II.

The Grade I winners she defeated in the balloting were Jet Ski Lady, winner of the Epsom Oaks, an English classic; Timely Warning, winner of the Brooklyn Handicap at Aqueduct; and Seattle Rhyme, winner of the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster, an English race course.

She was also chosen over Safely Kept, the horse rated third best in the Eclipse balloting for leading U.S. sprinter and third best in the category for the nation's best older filly and mare.

NOTES: Pie In Your Eye, a Maryland Triple Crown hopeful, makes his second career start in the eighth race tomorrow. . . . A hearing on a bill aimed at holding down blanket workmen's compensation premiums for Maryland owners and trainers begins at 1 p.m. today before the House Constitutional and Administrative Law committee. . . . The Maryland Standardbred Breeders Association held an emergency meeting in Annapolis last night to discuss possible OTB amendments. . . . Jockey Bobby McKnight has been released from the Maryland Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Hospital. McKnight was injured in a fall at Laurel last Friday. . . . Trainer Rodger Gill, a patient at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, could be released next week. In the interim, his son, Paul, is running Gill's 5-horse stable. The stable star, multiple stakes winner Chas' Whim is resting in Florida. . . . The Vinnie Blengs stable won two races yesterday, including the feature with Sunshine Judy.

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