Of all the Breeders' Cup races, the Sprint has been the most controversial.
There was even a movement a couple of years ago to do away with the race altogether after three horses -- Mr. Brooks, Mr. Nickerson and Shaker Knit -- broke down between 1990 and 1992 and were destroyed.
Yet when entries were taken last week for Saturday's Breeders' Cup XI at Churchill Downs, the race that many people wanted to discard drew the most entries.
A total of 25 horses were pre-entered, although only 14 can start.
What's the lesson to be learned?
"Put up a $1 million purse and people will run their horses," said Lenny Hale, Laurel/Pimlico's vice president of racing and a member of the six-member selection board that picks the Breeders' Cup fields.
As usual, the Sprint is a hotbed of controversy, even before this year's six-furlong stakes has been run.
In naming the 14-horse field, the selection committee passed over three California thoroughbreds, Saratoga Gambler, Concept Win and D'hallevant.
Leonard Lavin, chairman of the board of the Alberto-Culver Co. and owner of Concept Win, is so upset about it, according to the Daily Racing Form, that he is considering withdrawing his company's sponsorship of one of the Breeders' Cup races.
Chances are, Lavin is not going to win any of racing's "Big Sport of Turfdom" awards.
Ron McAnally, trainer of D'hallevant, is also miffed that his horse didn't make the cut.
Hale said that after the first 12 horses in the field were chosen, according to number of points accumulated in stakes races this year, there was a tie for the 13th spot between Chimes Band, a D. Wayne Lukas-trained runner, and Birdonthewire, the beaten favorite in last year's Sprint and a non-winner in six 1994 starts.
Chimes Band, who won the Grade II King's Bishop Stakes at Saratoga, won the nod, which left Birdonthewire to slug it out for the 14th spot with the three California horses.
"Even though Birdonthewire hasn't won this year, the board felt he had been running in better company than those California horses," Hale said. "And we studied the tapes of those horses' races over and over again."
Hale added that the committee, chaired by Eual Wyatt Jr., general manager of Hollywood Park and that track's former longtime racing director, is accustomed to controversy.
"We were taken to task for allowing Ibn Bey to run in the Classic in 1990 and he finished second," Hale said. "And then last year, there was a lot of debate when we allowed Gilded Time, who ran third, to start in the Sprint.
"But controversy goes with the territory. It was a difficult job this year, because the Sprint is so wide open and there are a lot of good horses eligible for the race."
Two of the stars of the division are the English mare, Lochsong, and the California filly, Soviet Problem, winner of the Laurel Dash.
Redcall earns a rest
It looks as if the so-called match race between local grass standouts Redcall and Warning Glance will not take place this weekend in the Laurel Turf Cup.
Redcall's owner, C. Oliver Goldsmith, said he has shipped his horse home for the winter after the colt's arduous second-place finish to Paradise Creek in the Washington D.C. International.
"He came up with a little filling in his ankle after the race," Goldsmith said. "And although it responded to treatment, and the filling came down, we decided to give him a break and save him for the racing wars next year. He ran his heart out in the International even as the winner went by him. He'll come back bigger, stronger and hopefully better."
Goldsmith said it's preposterous to think he's ducking a run against Warning Glance in the Turf Cup.
"If we're not afraid to run against Paradise Creek, what makes anyone think we'd be afraid to run against Warning Glance? We'll be glad to entertain him when our horse is right."
Not only does Goldsmith think Redcall "can whip Warning Glance, but I think that other horse [Paradise Creek] would have been in mortal trouble running against us in the International if it had been at a mile.
"I'm not saying we would have beat him, but we sure would have made him dance."
New regime at Fair Hill
When the combined driving and three-day event that has been staged over the weekend at Fair Hill began to grow into an international-sized affair the past couple of years, the local organizers, Maryland horsewomen Lana duPont Wright and Trish Gilbert, decided they needed professional assistance.
They brought in Jack Weir, a former vice president of operations and engineering at NBC Sports. Weir has plenty of experience in organizing major events. He worked out many of the technicalities involved in televising the Seoul and Barcelona Olympics and will serve as a consultant for the network at the Atlanta Olympics.
"The particular challenge at Fair Hill is that there is minimal infrastructure," Weir said, gazing out over the vast countryside that comprises the 5,000-acre Natural Resources Center, which was willed to the state by the late Willie duPont Jr.
For the first time, fall steeplechase races are packaged into one extravaganza with the equestrian events, which are held at a nearby, but separate location.
"There is no power, and we even have to truck in water," Weir said about the large tented village at the center of the event that is connected to the outside world with makeshift telephone and electric lines. "But although the logistics are tough, we have a great natural resource -- the land. Michael Tucker, the British course designer, told me that for constructing cross country courses for equestrian sports, Fair Hill is without parallel in the world."
To try to get the community involved in the project and to realize what kind of facility they have in their midst, Weir initiated educational sessions at the site this year with about 600 children from local elementary schools and Girl Scout and Pony Club groups. Next year, he hopes to expand the educational aspect into a statewide program for school children.
And he hopes next year to move the final day's equestrian activities, such as the cone event for carriage driving and the stadium jumping phase of the three-day riding event, to the infield of the race course and stage them before the steeplechase card.
Weir estimates that about 8,000 to 10,000 spectators visited the equestrian site yesterday in spectacular autumn weather and that about twice that many will attend the equestrian venue and races today.
Only one Maryland-bred thoroughbred, Concern, is among the 126 horses pre-entered for Saturday's Breeders' Cup card. In the 10 previous runnings, only one Maryland-bred, the filly Safely Kept, has won a Breeders' Cup race, the Sprint in 1990 at Belmont Park. . . . There are two Maryland-sired horses in the Breeders' Cup. Soul of the Matter, a son of Private Terms, goes in the Classic and Prenup, sired by Smarten, is entered in the Sprint. Both stallions stand at the Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City. Although about a dozen Maryland stallions have sired Breeders' Cup starters, only one, Horatius, has sired a winner. . . . One owner, Godolphin Racing Inc., has two horses entered in Breeders' Cup races, trained by two different horsemen. The Godolphin outfit is just one of the stables owned by Sheik Mohammed al Maktoum of Dubai. He races recently purchased Meritocrat, trained by Ben Perkins Jr., in the Sprint, and English-based Cezanne, from the barn of Michael Stoute, in the Classic.