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1994 will be tough act to follow

Throw out the usual bickering, backstabbing and projections of doom and gloom, and 1994 might be remembered as one of the best, if not the best, years for thoroughbred racing and breeding in the state.

For starters, on the business side of the ledger, the Laurel and Pimlico tracks made a financial comeback after losing a record $7.2 million in 1993. Final figures won't be released until a Maryland Racing Commission audit is published in March, but this year the tracks are expected to turn more than a $1 million profit.

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When the year ends Saturday, a projected $455 million will have been bet at the Maryland outlets, nearly $20 million more than the record $435 million in 1990.

It seemed that once the ownership issue was solved -- Joe De Francis and his partners, Marty Jacobs and Karin De Francis, bought out the Manfuso brothers' interests in February -- the tracks experienced a reversal of fortune.

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The Preakness was the best in the classic's 119 years. More than 100,000 people attended one of the state's eight betting outlets that day and wagered in excess of $8 million on the 11-race card. There was no Secretariat in the field or an unforgettable type of Sunday Silence-Easy Goer rivalry in the stretch, but Tabasco Cat put on a good show when he defeated Kentucky Derby winner Go For Gin.

Even Timonium profited in 1994. Once the half-mile oval was plugged into the state's OTB network, it went from near insolvency to creating a surplus purse account.

Sports-wise, it was an extraordinary year.

Baltimore County's Robert Meyerhoff not only became the first Maryland horseman to own and breed the winner of the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic -- America's richest race -- with Concern, but he also bred the country's leading sire, Broad Brush. It is the first time in the 134-year history of the American Stud Book that a Maryland-bred horse has topped the General Sire List.

Meyerhoff has an excellent chance to win an Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding breeder. His trainer, Dick Small, also became the first Maryland-based trainer to win a Breeders' Cup race.

Not all the successes were recorded by Team Meyerhoff. King Leatherbury took a $20,000 claimer, Taking Risks, and turned him into a Grade I stakes winner for the Lake- ville Stable.

Cecil County breeder Richard Golden made a Herculean effort to prevent Two Punch, the sire of Taking Risks, from going to Kentucky, and succeeded.

Four Maryland-bred horses -- Concern, Taking Risks, Corrazona and Cigar -- won Grade I races.

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The De Francis Dash winner, Cherokee Run, went on to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint and likely will be named the national sprint champion.

The Washington D.C. International and Dixie Handicap winner, Paradise Creek, is the likely national grass champion.

The Laurel Dash winner, Soviet Problem, was narrowly beaten in a memorable Breeders' Cup Sprint photo finish.

Two young Maryland stallions, Private Terms and Citidancer, have sired a pair of the country's top 2-year-olds.

Afternoon Deelites, Private Terms' son, ranks second only to Timber Country in the juvenile colt rankings. Citidancer's daughter, Urbane, is probably among the top 10 fillies.

There is no question racing faces plenty of problems. Laurel/Pimlico is still $40 million in debt. Purses need to be raised. Live racing needs a climate in which to thrive. But there were many bright spots in 1994. If only 1995 is as good.

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What to expect next year

Top stories the Maryland horse racing community can expect this coming year should include:

* The start of the casino gambling wars in Annapolis.

* The development of the interactive home wagering system in Baltimore County if the Attorney General's office lets the experiment proceed.

* Resolution of the Redskins stadium issue at Laurel Park.

* The development of an off-track betting system in Virginia and possible start of construction at Colonial Downs, pending the appeal lodged by losing applicant Jim Wilson.

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$1,500 'bargain of the year'

Frank Zureich came to Virginia from Cincinnati to ride show horses for renowned horsewoman Sallie Sexton nearly 20 years ago.

Now the 38-year-old rider has turned his love of studying thoroughbred pedigrees into dollars.

For the last nine years Zureich has worked with Middleburg trainer Paula Parsons and helped her break and educate such horses as Colonial Affair, Go For Gin and Rubiano for the racetrack.

When Zureich decided he wanted to try to breed a runner of his own, he and a friend, Violet Cleveland, went over to nearby Buckland Farm and asked what they had for sale.

A 2-year-old filly named Dumfries Pleasure fit the bill. She was born a twin. She was small. She was ugly. Her equally tiny twin sister had been given away as a riding horse.

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No one thought this filly would amount to much and no one had bothered to break her. Her price tag was $1,500.

But on the plus side, Zureich thought he and Cleveland would get plenty of pedigree for $1,500, and they did. The sire of Dumfries Pleasure is Buckland's 1981 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Pleasant Colony. Her dam, Dumfries, is a half-sister to former leading sire Lyphard.

Zureich and Cleveland bought the horse, broke her and sent her to Maryland for John Hicks to train. When Dumfries Pleasure went home, however, she blossomed as a breeding prospect. Her first foal, sired by Plugged Nickle, sold for $25,000 as a yearling. Her second foal, a filly by Bet Twice, brought $70,000 and her third foal, by Maryland sire Citidancer, turned out to be Urbane, one of the fastest 2-year-old fillies in the country this year and recent runner-up by a nose to Serena's Song in the Grade I Starlet Stakes at Hollywood Park.

Along the way, Dumfries Pleasure has developed some breeding irregularities, and when Zureich and Cleveland tried to sell her at Timonium last year she was returned by her Kentucky purchaser after four months of arbitration by the sales company.

"As it turned out, I'm glad we had to keep her," Zureich said. "My vet swears nothing is wrong with her, and if and when Urbane wins a Grade I stakes I think we have a mare who can produce a Keeneland summer sales yearling."

Any thoughts as to who the mare might be bred to this spring? Zureich has thought about Lure.


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