The biggest public relations boost horse racing in Maryland has received in recent years had to be WMAR-TV Channel 2's daylong coverage of the Preakness last Saturday.
The good news: The show is here to stay.
Everyone -- from the hosts to the participants interviewed in the infield, corporate tents and backstretch -- seemed to be having a blast, and even the tawdry old Pimlico plant was appealingly telegenic.
One Baltimore horse owner said he taped the 7 1/2 -hour show, which included the entire Preakness undercard, and has watched it twice.
"It turned out exactly as I hoped it would," said Joe Lewin, WMAR's vice president and general manager. "We hit the place like an army. I told everyone: Have fun. Don't worry if you make a mistake. Be spontaneous. Be warm.
"And I have to say, it was one day when everything clicked. The weather was beautiful. We're happy with the ratings. Even the rental equipment worked. It's not only our intention to keep it going, but to expand on it and make it bigger and better. The Preakness has a lot of room for growth."
The show, modeled after WHAS-TV's longtime local coverage of the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, had to be at least partly responsible for the extraordinarily high local Preakness ratings. The race itself, televised between 5 and 6 p.m. and covered nationally by ABC's "Wide World of Sports," received a 16.8 rating with a 43 share in the Baltimore market. According to Baltimore Sun TV sports columnist Milton Kent, those figures "approach the Super Bowl."
On a nationwide basis, however, the Preakness ratings correspondingly dipped with the Kentucky Derby. The Derby ratings decreased 20 percent from 1994; the Preakness showed a 27 percent drop.
Part of the reason might be the increasing popularity of simulcasting. Part of the Triple Crown's regular TV audience now has the opportunity to head to the nearest OTB outlet and bet on the races instead of sitting and watching them at home.
Lewin didn't comment specifically about what could be in the station's Preakness expansion plans. But in Louisville, WHAS now does daylong Kentucky Oaks coverage on the day before the Derby as well.
Pimlico's filly counterpart to the Preakness, the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, which turned into a media event for Serena's Song this year, is largely unheralded and could lend itself, too, to some added coverage. However, Oaks day at Churchill Downs is as large, attendance-wise, as the Preakness at Pimlico. The Black-Eyed Susan card draws only slightly more than a normally upbeat Saturday.
Instead, the Maryland Million at Laurel Park in the fall could be considered.
Taking Risks on the mend
Trainer King Leatherbury has been besieged by callers who want to give Maryland's champion older horse of 1994 a home.
That's the word from Leatherbury's No. 1 Pimlico assistant, Eddie Brown Jr., who looks after the trainer's 30-horse "second-string" at Old Hilltop and is overseeing Taking Risks' recuperation.
The 5-year-old gelding, who rose from claimer to Grade I stakes winner, fractured two sesamoids in his left front ankle during last Sunday's William Donald Schaefer Handicap.
The horse was able to walk off the track and into Leatherbury's barn, where he has since been stabled.
Brown said Taking Risks is able to bear weight on his fractured leg, which is wrapped in a heavy cast-like bandage and is supported by rods.
"Fortunately, there was very little soft tissue damage and that's why he is still alive today," Brown said. "The prognosis is for four to six months of stall rest and then he should be salvageable for a happy retirement of munching grass.
"I think so many people want him because not only was he such a good racehorse, but he's also a big [nearly 17 hands], handsome animal."
Brown said that among the people who have called Leatherbury and would like to give the horse a good home is his breeder, Elliot Kessler of Mount Airy.
"All I know is that his owner, Baird Brittingham, and King, are going to do what's right for the horse," Brown said.
Broad Brush misses date
Taking Risks is not the only champion Maryland-bred on the injured list. The state's two-time former Horse of the Year, Broad Brush, now the nation's No. 1 sire, was stricken with colic last week just hours before he was scheduled to be mated with 1988 Kentucky Derby-winning mare Winning Colors.
Bernie Sams, manager of Gainesway Farm in Lexington, Ky., where Broad Brush stands at stud, said the horse was turned out in his paddock at 7 a.m. and then brought up to his stall at 9 a.m. to get ready to be bred.
Instead, Broad Brush became uncomfortable, somehow twisted his intestine and was rushed to a nearby clinic where he underwent emergency surgery.
Sams said that the horse is now "doing fine. There are no complications and we expect he'll be home in three or four days. However, he's done for the year as far as breeding goes."
Broad Brush had already bred 63 of the 68 mares that he was booked to this spring, added Sams, "and this means he'll end up missing just five mares."
One of them, however, turned out to be Winning Colors, who instead was bred later that afternoon to Rahy, sire of Serena's Song.
Sams said 43 mares have been checked in foal to Broad Brush and he estimates the final number in foal will be in the mid-50s.
Among those already checked pregnant are such graded stakes winners as Radiant Ring, Nastique, Crowned and Miss The Storm.
During his racing career, Broad Brush won 12 stakes and $2.6 million for his owner-breeder Robert Meyerhoff and also sired Breeders' Cup Classic winner Concern for him.
As for Winning Colors, she'll have to wait until next year to visit Broad Brush.
Dunn buys sales topper
Charlie Dunn, the West Coast owner of Jumron, who finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby, purchased a colt named Scholarship, the $92,000 sales topper on Monday, at the Fasig-Tipton Co.'s annual spring sale of 2-year-old racing prospects at the Timonium Fairgrounds.
Dunn, however, did not attend the auction. He bid on the horse over the telephone.
Boyd T. Browning Jr., executive vice president and chief operating officer of Fasig-Tipton, said Dunn previously had purchased some horses from Scholarship's seller, Kip Elser.
"Kip recommended this horse to him and he bought him," Browning said.
Browning said that because such horses as Urbane and Afternoon Deelites (sired by Maryland stallions Citidancer and Private Terms, respectively) have raced so well outside Maryland, the Timonium sales are gaining national credibility.
"Not only did we have buyers from California, but there was also action from New York and New Jersey, as well as local Maryland participation," Browning said.
For the first time the average price for a select 2-year-old exceeded $20,000.
Among the local buyers were Harold Greenberg, who purchased Ann Merryman's Polish Numbers filly for $57,000; Dale Lucas' Helmore Farm Racing Partnerships, which has purchased numerous stakes horses from previous 2-year-old sales; Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos; and Lloyd Brauninger, whose Tidal Surge has won five consecutive starts.
The total Preakness Day handle locally and from all national outlets amounted to $34,013,639, about $365,000 short of last year's record of $34,378,670. . . . Now that Jack Kent Cooke has abandoned plans to build a Redskins stadium in Laurel, track president Joe De Francis said he will meet with Enterprise Foundation officials this week to discuss the building of new backstretch dormitories at Laurel Park.