TC Maryland horsemen have finally gotten their wish.
After seven years of being carded on the turf, the Laurel Futurity and Selima Stakes, the signature 2-year-old fall races in Maryland, have been moved from the grass back to the dirt course.
"History has shown these have been better races on the dirt, and this return to the main track is something that our horsemen have been lobbying for for several years," said Richard Hoffberger, president of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.
The races were moved to the grass by the late Frank De Francis in 1987 and linked with the International Turf Festival in an effort -- to draw bigger and better fields and as a response to competition from the Breeders' Cup.
But lately, the Futurity, won in pre-Breeders' Cup years by such horses as Secretariat, Affirmed and Spectacular Bid, has been won largely by a string of forgettable turf types such as Smiling And Dancin, Lord of the Bay and Dove Hunt.
Likewise, the Selima, formerly the preserve of such fillies as Moccasin, Numbered Account and Mom's Command, has produced such nondescript winners as Tycoon's Drama, Ken de Saron and Booly.
Laurel's vice president of racing, Lenny Hale, said that not only will the switch be popular with most Maryland horsemen, but that the races are designed as a prep for the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5.
The Selima will be run Oct. 9, followed the next day by the Futurity.
The distance will be the unusual distance of 7 1/2 furlongs. "We can't run a mile at Laurel, and 1 1/16 miles is also out of the question," Hale said. "On the same weekend, the New York Racing Association has carded the Champagne and Frizette Stakes for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles. At the 7 1/2 -furlong distance, we'll be able to give horsemen the alternative of running at a shorter distance, but also providing a suitable race length for a Breeders' Cup prep."
PD The two Breeders' Cup juvenile races are carded at 1 1/16 miles.
Timonium simulcast plans
Laurel and Pimlico race courses may not be shut down for 10 days this year during the Maryland State Fair meet at Timonium.
Timonium officials and the management team at Laurel/Pimlico are meeting this week to discuss the possibility of keeping the mile tracks and all Maryland OTB facilities open this year during the fair.
The daily live card at Timonium would be simulcast at all the outlets as well as full-card simulcasts from out-of-state tracks.
No formula on how to divide revenues has been reached, nor have the logistics of the operation been worked out.
But Timonium is not expected to simulcast full cards from out-of-state tracks at its facility, although business was off by 20 percent there last year when the simulcasts were not offered.
Skinner's big day
On Thursday, jockey Kenny Skinner won two races at Laurel worth a total of $44,500, including the feature on the Roger Attfield-trained Keen Runner.
Skinner, who has been riding for 20 years, moved his tack to Maryland last year from California. He has had quite an illustrious career, being a leading rider in Hong Kong and in Canada, where he won the 1987 Queen's Plate.
Skinner is represented at Laurel by former trainer, Timothy Boyce.
No smoking at Laurel?
If a no smoking ban in Maryland public buildings goes into effect on Aug. 1, the tracks at Laurel and Pimlico could be smoke-free zones.
"We're not quite sure yet about all the specifics of the statute, but we will comply totally with the law," said track operator Joe De Francis.
He added that certain areas of the tracks are currently designated as no smoking zones, "and we're adding more of them all the time."
Tabasco Cat skips Haskell
D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of Preakness-Belmont winner Tabasco Cat, will skip running against Holy Bull in the Grade I Haskell Invitational Handicap at Monmouth Park on July 31 and will run his horse instead in the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga on the same day.
Holy Bull, front-running winner of the Met Mile and Dwyer Stakes in his past two starts, figures to be the overwhelming choice in the New Jersey race.
Maryland-bred Concern, who finished third in the Preakness, second in the Ohio Derby and third in the Round Table Stakes in his past three starts, will be invited to run in the race. The horse's trainer, Richard Small, said the Haskell is one of the races he is considering as the next start for the Robert Meyerhoff-owned colt.
Meyerhoff is in the midst of what could be a record-breaking year for his stable. Not only is he campaigning a dozen stakes horses, all home-breds, but he has won nine stakes during the first six months of the year.
Casual Lies goes to New Zealand
Shelley Riley, whose one-horse stable and one-liners captivated the Triple Crown races in 1992, has sold her 5-year-old horse, Casual Lies, to a New Zealand stud farm for a reported $700,000.
Riley, who lives in Pleasanton, Calif., finished second in the 1992 Kentucky Derby with the horse as well as third in the Preakness and fifth in the Belmont Stakes.
The horse, which Riley purchased as a yearling for $7,500, won $795,991 for Riley before he was retired.
At a Maryland Racing Commission meeting at Timonium last week, Laurel/Pimlico officials submitted two confidential five-year business plans to the board showing revenue projections with and without the tracks' adding a third pari-mutuel facility in Virginia. The projections were made by the national accounting firm of Coopers and Lybrand. . . . Gibberwood became the first graduate of the inaugural Horsemen's Bloodstock Services Yearling Sale to win a race. The Baederwood colt, sold by Charles and Cynthia McGinnes of Chestertown, won a maiden special race at Laurel on Thursday. The horse is owned by Nick and Elaine Bassford of Davidsonville and is trained by King Leatherbury. . . . Maryland Jockey Club officials are still uncertain if full cards from the coming Saratoga and Del Mar meets will be simulcast at the state's betting outlets.