The search apparently has been narrowed to two candidates -- one with a background in racing and one with television expertise -- to be named the first so-called national "czar of racing."
The board of directors of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, which represents the bulk of North American thoroughbred tracks, voted at its quarterly meeting in Toronto last week to hire a paid president to assume a commissioner-type role.
The TRA's first commissioner of racing is expected be hired by the Nov. 6 Breeders' Cup.
The idea is to reorganize the TRA, comprised of 42 tracks including all the major ones in the United States and Canada, and give it a more activist role "so that we'll have a league office staffed with full-time professionals instead of a lot of the work being done by volunteer track owners, who have their own businesses to run," said Pimlico/Laurel operator and TRA director Joe De Francis.
Chris Scherf, TRA executive vice president, said the organization will still maintain some offices at current TRA headquarters at Fair Hill in Cecil County and he has been assured of expanded duties.
On the agenda: the introduction of a super exotic national wager, such as last year's experimental National Pic 6 or the Breeders' Cup Pick Seven. The weekly bet would be designed to build a multimillion-dollar carry-over pool, sort of horse racing's answer to the lottery's Powerball.
"The biggest day in Maryland racing history, and I repeat, the biggest day ever even superseding the Preakness, occurred on Easter Saturday 1990 when we had a $1 million double-triple pool," De Francis said. The idea of winning big bucks is irresistible to gamblers both large and small.
The new commissioner's first job will be to organize the national wager and then put together a national television package.
Not on the immediate agenda: setting up a clone of the defunct American Championship Racing Series, which was popular among horsemen but ran into trouble attracting network TV coverage.
There is sentiment among many officials that racing is regional rather than national in appeal and any TRA commissioner will have limited or no power concerning issues such as medication rules or racing dates.
"But the idea is to create excitement and try to get the industry moving again," De Francis said.
Breeders' review committee
C. Frank Hopkins, the state racing commission member who has been given authority to review the Maryland Fund Program by the state racing board, has named a nine-member committee, comprised of a cross section of large and small Maryland horse breeders, to look into how funds for the Maryland breeding program are awarded and distributed.
Named to the board are: Pimlico/Laurel vice president of racing Lenny Hale; Darlington Farm owner Audrey Murray; Baltimore County owner/breeder Bill Fitzgibbons; Carolyn Green of Green Willow Farm, Westminster; longtime Maryland Horse Breeders' Association executive director Snowden Carter; Howard County horseman C. Oliver Goldsmith; former U.S. Sen. Danny Brewster; Annapolis area breeder Jim Lewis; and Larry Johnson, a Maryland breeder who owns a large Washington accounting firm.
Hopkins said he has asked the Maryland Horse Breeders' Association and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association to publicize those on the committee.
"We want to hear comments from everybody connected with the state's breeding industry," Hopkins said. "Now is the time for people who claim they haven't got a voice to be heard."
Hopkins said the committee will hold its first organizational meeting on Oct. 20 at Laurel Race Course.
"After that, we want to hold public meetings in different areas of ++ the state to gather testimony," he said.
Trotting Triple Crown
Stan Bergstein, executive director of Harness Tracks of America, and Ursula Ayd of Jarrettsville, have something in common. They decry the lack of coverage given to harness racing, particularly this year when a horse named American Winner could win trotting's Triple Crown.
The horse already has won the first two legs, the Yonkers Trot and the Hambletonian, and goes in the Kentucky Futurity on Oct. 8 at the Red Mile in Lexington.
"No matter what they put on my death certificate, the real cause of my demise will be frustration," Bergstein said.
"There is major coverage for the thoroughbreds when their Triple Crown events are held," Ayd recently wrote. "But very little is mentioned about the Standardbreds."
Bergstein said the situation is improving, somewhat. Two former sportswriters, Frank Drucker and Tim O'Leary, have created a national Standardbred media office called Harness Racing Communications in White Plains, N.Y.
"They have been successful this year especially in getting coverage in USA Today and we've even had some features in the New York Times," Bergstein said.
As for American Winner, Berg- stein regards him as "the greatest trotter of all time. There also is quite a story behind him. For starters, he is trained by his former van driver, Milton Smith, who also happens to be the first African-American trainer to win the Hambletonian."
A dozen horses have earned more than $1 million this year.
They are: (thoroughbreds) Sea Hero, Devil His Due, Bertrando, Star of Cozzene, Prairie Bayou and Peteski. (Standardbreds) Presidential Ball, American Winner, Riyadh, Pine Chip and Life Size. (quarter horse) A Classic Dash.
Must reading: the tribute written in the Sept. 17 issue of the Chronicle of the Horse Magazine by Baltimore lawyer/horseman Ned Halle to deceased Baltimore County horsemen Jock Dett and Boo Boblitz. Halle captures the essence of why, as he writes, "all the things we do with horses [in Maryland] is a way of life instead of just a sport.". . . Top-selling item at the recent Thoroughbred Retirement Fund auction at Belmont Park: $1,500 for the saddle cloth worn by Sea Hero during morning training at this year's Kentucky Derby.