All eyes in the local horse industry will be on racing secretary Georgeanne Hale when Timonium Race Course opens on Saturday.
Hale is attempting to do what could be almost impossible -- filling 93 live races at the half-mile oval in one, continuous 10-day stretch. That's three more races than Laurel/Pimlico fills in the same time frame, but spread over a 14-day period.
The horse shortage at local tracks became a bit more acute this summer when Pimlico/Laurel reduced its weekly live package from 47 to 45 races and is considering going dark next year from four to six weeks.
How is Hale going to pull it off?
"Good question," she said. "I won't know until I get there and we see how many horsemen enter. I've gotten good feedback from a lot of people who said they like the look of the condition book. And, of course, our purses are nearly double from a year ago."
Her mission: to fill nine live races each day plus 10 on Saturdays and on Labor Day. She will be carding cheaper claiming races and the four-furlong --es that are a Timonium signature -- racing fare that's absent at Pimlico/Laurel. The fields are also smaller -- a full field at Pimlico is 12 horses; at Timonium, it's 10.
One main disadvantage is that there's no turf racing at Timonium, and it's the grass races that are usually a certainty to fill.
But Hale is optimistic. She said King Leatherbury and Jerry Robb, perennial leaders in the training ranks, are set to race their stables and that Bud Delp, Carlos Garcia and Graham Motion have said they will support the stakes schedule, up from one to five stakes this year.
Timber Country's finest moment
It was meant to be a prelude to a championship-winning season, but the 1995 Preakness turned out to be the finest moment for the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Timber Country.
He said on Friday that the 3-year-old colt had been retired because of a torn tendon in his left foreleg.
Even after the horse's stablemate, Thunder Gulch, had won the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, Lukas believers came away with the distinct impression that Timber Country was the best horse in the Triple Crown.
Lukas hyped the horse so much, even after his loss in the Derby, that he was favored in the Preakness -- and won. However, his luck failed at the Belmont. On the eve of the race, the horse ran a temperature and was a last-minute scratch.
Even then, Lukas said Timber Country would stay in the East and run in the Travers Stakes, while Thunder Gulch, still considered the second-stringer in Lukas' eyes, was sent back to the West Coast to run in the lesser-regarded Swaps Stakes.
But one by one, Timber Country's scheduled starts -- first the Dwyer, then the Long Branch, Haskell Invitational and Travers Stakes -- were delayed and eventually missed.
With Timber Country's retirement, Lukas has changed his tune and is giving "Mighty Mouse," his nickname for Thunder Gulch, ** the respect he deserves.
Without missing a beat, Lukas said he now believes that not only is Thunder Gulch the best 3-year-old but should be named Horse of the Year.
Want money? Call a casino
Local racing people might be bashing casinos, but they certainly are lining up to take their money.
First it was Maryland's harness horsemen, who accepted a much-publicized bailout from Bally Entertainment Corp. in June. The casino company lent them more than $10 million to buy Rosecroft/Delmarva Raceways.
Then this month Maryland Million Ltd. took on Bally as a sponsor for two of its 11 races.
Now, casino developer Jeff Jacobs has come to the rescue of Virginia track entrepreneur Arnold Stansley and is joining him as an equity partner in building Virginia's off-track betting system and in the construction of Colonial Downs, the state's first racetrack. Jacobs says he's in for $10 million.
Just about the only people who haven't taken money from the casino operators are the management of the Maryland Jockey Club, the owners of Pimlico/Laurel.
Wayne Wright, executive director of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said he also wants to make it clear that while Maryland Million Ltd. has aligned itself with Bally as a sponsor, "the MTHA was in no way involved in that decision.
"I'm not sure what the position of the state's breeders is. But the horsemen in our organization continue to be opposed to the infiltration of casino gaming in Maryland."