The folks at the Aiken, S.C.-based Dogwood Stable really picked a worthy recipient when they named Howard "Gelo" Hall of Baltimore as the winner of the organization's Dominion Award.
The prize, initiated last year and awarded by the stable at the Saratoga meet, honors racing's "unsung heroes."
Hall, 67, is one of the sport's gentlest souls, a man, said Dogwood Stable president Cot Campbell, who "for over 50 years has spread goodness and provided a smile, a big hello and every sort of assistance to down-and-out racetrackers on up to track presidents."
Hall is a link to a time when racing was considered a sport instead of a business.
Officials at Laurel Race Course, where Hall works as a patrol judge and stakes solicitor, know better than to expect to see him at work on Sunday mornings, which is now part of the regular racing week. He sings bass in the choir at St. Katherine's of Alexandria Episcopal Church in Northwest Baltimore before he heads to the track. In the 1950s, he was one of the founding members of the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America.
Talking to the man is like reliving racing history. He remembers seeing the War Admiral-Seabiscuit match race at Pimlico when he was 6. He began galloping horses at the Maryland tracks when he was 14, working as an exercise rider for the late Frank A. "Downey" Bonsal for 19 years. Among his morning mounts were such stars of the past as New Moon, Pilaster and Quarter Moon.
After a brief stint as a trainer, he became a jockey's agent for 24 years, handling such riders as Mickey Solomone, who is retired and serves as national director for the Jockeys' Guild; Arnold Iliescu, John Giovanni, Joe Brocklebank, Mike Gonzalez and Carlos Barrera.
As a racing official, Hall remembers soliciting nominations for the Triple Crown and accepting one from trainer Billy Turner in 1977 for a horse named Seattle Slew.
Although his career has taken him all over the country, Hall's home base has always been Baltimore. He lives here with his wife, Lillian, and has two daughters, Janis Hall, a boutique manager in New York, and Jai Hall, a dancer and model.
All the Halls expect to travel with Gelo when he accepts the $5,000 award at Saratoga on Aug. 10.
Maryland's Saratoga compromise
Some mutuels workers and fans have been grumbling about Laurel/Pimlico's new policy limiting the wagering on Saratoga simulcasts to self-service terminals.
But as track president Joe De Francis pointed out in a letter to Tom Russow, president of Local 27 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, last week, "the key to our viability as a business is to maintain a high level of interest in and wagering on our core product -- our own Maryland racing."
The move to the self-service terminals for the Saratoga simulcasts will not reduce the work force, De Francis wrote, and offers a solution to a sensitive subject. Fans who want to bet on Saratoga can do so, but at the same time are not encouraged to arbitrarily do so by shifting wagering dollars away from Maryland to New York racing. New York, unlike other states, does not allow reciprocal wagering on full-card Maryland simulcasts.
Maryland is not the only state grappling with the simulcast issue. Last week, the New Jersey Racing Commission, acting on a request from New Jersey horsemen, banned the Saratoga simulcasts at Atlantic City Race Course.
The reason? Horsemen are afraid fans will bet too much on the glamorous Saratoga races and ignore the New Jersey product.
The move prompted Atlantic City Race Course president Bob Levy to blast the commission and the horsemen. Levy said daily purses at Atlantic City will be reduced by $8,000 to $10,000. Live racing there also has been cut from five to four days a week.
Everly named marketing director
Carrie Everly, the new marketing director at Laurel/Pimlico, has several years' experience in the horse industry.
Everly, who has worked at the Maryland tracks since 1990, is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and spent quite a few years working in that state's horse racing and breeding industry.
During college, Everly worked as a hotwalker for Midwest horseman Harvey Vanier and after graduation was employed at Jonabell Farms in Lexington, where she converted all written records to a computer-based system.
She then became an account executive for Matchmaker Services, which listed and sold stallion shares and seasons on a national basis, before joining the marketing department at the Maryland tracks.
Everly's goal is to increase marketing services at Laurel/Pimlico.
Several promotions are being offered at the live Pimlico meet, which starts Tuesday.
Free admission is offered opening day as well as a coupon book, which offers discounts on many track items as well as free admission on other days. In addition, the track will offer a "Great Race Giveaway," sponsoring a drawing for free round-trips for two to the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, the Pacific Classic at Del Mar and the Arlington Million at Arlington International Racecourse.
"We'd like to do some kind of promotion utilizing the Pimlico infield, such as continuing the lawn parties we've held at Laurel with WHFS radio. But we're going to wait until it gets a little cooler," Everly said.
She added that joint promotions with local companies and other sports venues are being considered.
Through Friday, apprentice Dylan Armstrong had won 18 races at Laurel, making him the sixth-leading rider. . . . The De Francis Dash, which competed head-on last weekend with the True North Handicap in New York, not only drew a fuller field but also was a faster race. Cherokee Run won the Dash at Laurel in 1 minute, 8 4/5 seconds, compared to the 1:09 3/5 seconds it took Friendly Lover to beat Boundary in the True North. . . . Jockey Mary Wiley won her first race in her current comeback campaign when she guided Miss Claratius to a victory on Friday in a maiden allowance race at Laurel. Wiley worked as a paralegal for a couple of years while recovering from a knee injury but has returned to active rider status. . . . Art Kretz, general manager of the Fair Hill Training Center near Elkton, writes that outfits from his establishment have been having quite a summer in the winner's circle. On one recent Saturday, the Fair Hill trainers won eight races from 14 starters at a number of East Coast tracks, including Laurel, where Fair Hill-based Canton River won the Cavalier Cup. . . . Charlie Keller, whose Yankeeland Farm in Frederick has produced many of Maryland's top Standardbred horses, has been named an Immortal in the Harness Racing Hall of Fame. This makes Keller a double Hall of Famer. He also made the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame for his career with the New York Yankees.