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Year-round simulcasting could signal new life for Timonium track

THE BALTIMORE SUN

If legislation passes the current session of the General Assembly, Timonium Race Course could become the site of a year-round off-track betting parlor.

Permission for Timonium to operate as a satellite simulcast facility during the entire year is needed from Laurel/Pimlico operator Joe De Francis, who said last week that he's all for it, "providing it's beneficial for everyone concerned. It is certainly a possibility."

Under state law, an OTB facility that is located within 35 miles of an existing racetrack must have approval from that track before it can be licensed. De Francis' OK is necessary since Timonium is about 10 miles from Pimlico.

Under the proposed legislation, Timonium will operate as an inter-track facility. That means that when the track runs its 10 days of racing during the Maryland State Fair in late summer, it will be able to send its signal to all Maryland off-track sites, including Laurel and Pimlico race courses, and televise harness races at night.

The half-mile track has authority to televise full-card simulcasts from out-of-state tracks, but didn't exercise that option last year.

"We didn't think our clientele wanted the simulcasts, that they came to Timonium for the live races," said Howard M. "Max" Mosner Jr., the track's general manager. "But we were dead wrong."

The total betting handle was off 19.4 percent, such a drastic drop that it has jeopardized the future of the State Fair meet. In addition, during the 10-day period, existing OTBs statewide were forced to shut down for thoroughbred racing, resulting in a loss of revenue for their operators.

If the proposed legislation is passed, all of the changes that will bring Timonium up to par with Laurel/Pimlico can take place in addition to the possibility of operating an expanded year-round simulcast schedule.

Mosner said the year-round schedule is desirable to boost income and purses for Timonium's live meet. He added that it is not cost-effective to operate Timonium as a full-blown simulcast outlet just for 10 days a year.

The track's dining room could be outfitted for year-round OTB use, or the horse sales pavilion, which is already set up like a mini-theater, could be adapted as a suitable facility.

Mosner said he believes there is enough parking, "even if we had to open up the infield of the track on occasion [during other big weekend events]. We're not talking about thousands upon thousands of cars [for the OTB outlet] anyway."

De Francis said the big issue is the facility -- "what capital improvements would need to be made and who would pay for them. We have an excellent relationship with Grove Miller [Timonium's president] and Max Mosner. If the bill passes, then we can sit down, roll up our sleeves and work out a plan that is mutually beneficial to everyone."

The Senate Finance Committee conducted a hearing on the bill last week. Sen. Thomas Bromwell (D-Baltimore County) introduced the bill in the state Senate. The House Ways and Means Committee takes up the measure March 17. Del. Paul Weisengoff (D-Baltimore City) introduced the bill in the House of Delegates.

Ted Snell, president of Rosecroft/Delmarva harness tracks, said that he is "200 percent" for the idea. He said that Pimlico and Timonium could operate simultaneously as night-time harness outlets.

New racetrack employee

Richard Clayton Beck, who was almost electrocuted in a mishap at the starting gate at Pimlico last spring, is now a Laurel/Pimlico employee, even though he is suing track management for negligence in the incident.

Beck started working as a placing and patrol judge and as an entry clerk in the racing secretary's office at Laurel about a month ago.

The 37-year-old former exercise rider was aboard the gelding Fox Brush in the starting gate at Pimlico last spring, when the horse collapsed in the gate. At first, Beck was stuck on top of the horse, but crawled off and into the next stall.

"It happened so quick, I didn't realize at first that the horse was dead," Beck recalled. "I thought he was stuck and I went to the back of the gate to open the door to try to pull him out."

When Beck grabbed the door, his hand became frozen to it and his body was electrified.

"It didn't help that I was standing in a puddle of water," Beck said.

Assistant starter Danny Fitchett came to Beck's rescue, knocking him off the door. "The only thing I remember is screaming and thinking that Danny was going to get fried, too," Beck said.

The gate had become electrified after a cable, used to charge the battery, had been draped over the side and came in contact with water. The Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Program charged the track with two violations concerning the incident. The track appealed those, as well as other safety and workplace-related violations.

Beck was in intensive care for more than a day after the mishap and said that he suffered permanent nerve damage in his back, his leg and a wrist. He underwent four months of physical therapy and was told by doctors not to ride again.

His attorney, Michael Berey, said that Beck's workers' compensation case in the incident is nearing conclusion and that an additional case against the track for negligence "is in limbo" until the compensation claim is satisfied. He said that no monetary figure has yet been put on the negligence case involving the track.

Beck, who is originally from Olney, is a former steeplechase rider and was, at one time, an assistant to the late trainer Tommy Field.

Beck said he would rather be galloping horses for a living, but feels lucky to have a job. He had no comment when asked if it felt odd to be working for an employer that he is suing.

His boss, vice president of racing Lenny Hale, said Beck is doing a good job.

Ritchey stays in Maryland

Tim Ritchey, the leading trainer at Delaware Park for the past two years, plans to keep a string of horses at the Maryland tracks for the first time this year.

When Delaware opens March 26, Ritchey said he will have about 20-25 head there, but will keep 17 of his better horses at Laurel.

"I like the atmosphere and the purse money in Maryland," Ritchey said. "And the track superintendent [John Passero] does a good job in maintaining the racing strip." The 42-year-old trainer won and placed third in two stakes starts with J. Robert Harris' 3-year-old filly, Baby Zip. "I would have liked to have done a lot better with my horses this winter," Ritchey said. "But the weather hindered a lot of things I wanted to do."

The track's racing department recently listed these other planned arrivals:

* Trainer Ned Allard, who has won stakes at Laurel this winter with Pleasant Dilemma and Ask Shananie, is bringing 15 head to Maryland from Garden State Park for the Pimlico Spring meet.

* Pat Daniels, trainer for Adelaide Riggs, will soon be bringing 15 head to Laurel from winter training quarters at Holly Hill, S.C.

* Vinnie Blengs is expected to ship the bulk of his stable back to Maryland once the Gulfstream Park meet ends in a couple of weeks.

Miscellaneous

Recent luminaries sighted at Laurel: Sen. Phil Gramm (D-Texas), who attended the General George Stakes on Presidents Day last week. Media magnate Joe Albritton, who once served on Laurel's board of directors, was at the track Friday to see his filly, Rasputin, win the $16,500 feature.

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