It is called the 6:15 issue.
For the state's harness horsemen, who held their annual convention this weekend in Ocean City, it is a sensitive subject that could become a major stumbling block in the new inter-tracking partnership that is developing between Maryland's thoroughbred and harness communities.
Under state law, thoroughbred racing is not permitted beyond 6:15 p.m.
Nighttime is strictly the preserve of the trotters. In the words of Charles Lockhart, executive director of Cloverleaf, the organization representing standardbred owners and trainers, "it is a sacred cow with harness horsemen."
But if, and when, Laurel-Pimlico start simulcasting their races into Rosecroft-Delmarva in the afternoon, and the trotters are then beamed into the flat tracks at night, the big plum could be televising thoroughbred races from California during the early evening hours. That seems to be what the bettors want.
But at least several of those races would be run after the 6:15 time slot.
The managements of the thoroughbred and harness tracks have thought up a way to split the kitty: Rosecroft-Delmarva get the commissions from the California races televised at their tracks and Laurel-Pimlico retain the proceeds from the California simulcasts at their plants.
No way, say the harness horsemen.
That is the strong consensus expressed by the owners and trainers present in Ocean City this weekend.
"We have grave concerns about the standardbreds competing with the thoroughbreds anyway," Lock hart said. "No one knows how the thoroughbred simulcasts in the afternoon at Rosecroft will impact the live harness races there at night. And no one knows how much benefit the trotters will receive from going into the Baltimore market [at Pimlico] at night. Taking the California races past 6:15 further clouds the issue."
The harness horsemen want to implement inter-tracking without televising any thoroughbred races past 6:15 p.m.
Thoroughbred managers are saying they need the California racing.
It is such a difficult topic, that a meeting of the Maryland Horse Coalition -- comprised of representatives of the thoroughbred and harness tracks as well as owners, trainers and breeders -- has been called for 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Skysuite at Laurel Race Course.
Other items will be discussed, but the major concern will be the 6:15 issue.
An eye for a horse
Paula Parsons has a master's degree in English literature. But she has also mastered horse racing.
She certainly knows a runner when she sees one.
Not only is the Middleburg, Va., horsewoman responsible for the early education of such top equine performers as Rubiano, Aptostar and Private Man, but she also has had quite a bit of success with a couple of her own horses, notably Avian Assembly and Part With Pride.
Parsons selected the two fillies as yearlings in 1990.
Avian Assembly caught her eye in Kentucky at the Keeneland Fall Yearling Sale. She bought her for $14,500 and about a month later purchased Part With Pride for $1,800 at Timonium.
Together, the two fillies won nine races, all in allowance or stakes company last year as 3-year-olds.
She recently sold Avian Assembly to the Team Valor outfit in California after the filly won her last two Laurel starts by a combined margin of 16 1/2 lengths.
Parsons isn't quoting figures, but the going price for such a horse is probably in the $250,000 range.
Today, with Pat Valenzuela riding, Avian Assembly makes her first West Coast appearance in the Grade II El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
Parsons still has Part With Pride, who is about to make her first stakes start.
Parsons, and her trainer, Jimmy Murphy, will either choose the Tuscarora Handicap at Philadelphia Park or the Maryland Racing Writers Handicap at Laurel on Jan. 23. One problem: in the latter race, Part With Pride could face Murphy-trained Stem The Tide.
Parsons said buying the two fillies for $16,300 and having them turn out so well "has been an experience of a lifetime. I just hope Avian Assembly tears them up today at Santa Anita."
Little Casino and his owners Bill and Phyllis Dixon get an "A" for perseverance.
After five years and two bowed tendons, the horse achieved the near impossible and won a stakes race for the Dixons at age 7.
Now there is a supplement to the story.
After winning the Northern Wolf Handicap at Laurel last weekend, Little Casino returned lame. He fractured a sesamoid in a hind leg and will be sent to the farm tomorrow to recuperate for six months.
Trainer Ron Cartwright vows the old fighter will be back after his third major injury.