When Dave Wade raced Maryland's champion trotter, S J's Photo, in a qualifying heat at Rosecroft Raceway on Saturday morning, the horse slipped and broke stride about halfway through the workout.
But don't expect that to happen in two weeks, when Rosecroft's new management team, headed by president Dennis Dowd, cards its first showcase event, the $35,000 Cloverleaf Invitational Trot, on Nov. 4.
It's a promotional event, largely to give local fans a chance to see S J's Photo compete in one of his final U.S. starts and to send the track's out-of-state simulcast customers a message that Rosecroft is out to improve its product.
The 5-year-old trotter -- born, raised and trained at Wade's Cecil County farm -- has earned more than $1.2 million and is scheduled to complete his career in France and Italy this winter before being retired to stud in Pennsylvania.
"Maryland has produced a great pacer, Nick's Fantasy, and a great trotter, S J's Photo, this year, and we wanted to try to do something for both," said Don Codey, the track's recently hired general manager. "Nick's Fantasy's schedule didn't permit it. But 'S J' will be able to race here."
About seven or eight high-quality aged trotters from this country and Canada have been invited to race, including 1994 Hambletonian Oaks winner, Gleam; Breeders' Crown winner Panifesto, and other horses such as Night Court Dan and Impeccable Image.
"These are horses 'S J' is capable of beating," Wade said. "But he's going to have to go flat-out and do it. It's not going to be an easy race by any means. I think it's great the new management [Bally Entertainment Corp.] is putting on the race. Maryland fans have been deprived of seeing 'S J' for a couple of years, and I think they deserve to see him race. I can't predetermine his performance. But if he races well, it's going to be a great night."
Bally took over management of Rosecroft on June 28 after lending the state's horsemen's group, Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners' Association, $11 million to buy the track from Colt Enterprises, which had threatened to place Rosceroft and its sister track, Delmarva Downs, in bankruptcy.
Bally took its time installing its management team, with Dowd, Codey and a new racing secretary, Hugh Gallagher, starting work about six weeks ago.
In the meantime, the board of the horsemen's organization recently re-elected its president, Jerry Brittingham, to a three-year term as head of Cloverleaf Enterprises, a subsidiary of the horsemen's organization, which governs the track. Four new members of the subsidiary's board are harness owners Ralph Hayward, Ralph Holloway, Don Wares and Wayne Lynch.
"The first month in July, we lost $75,000, but that was about half of what Colt was losing," Brittingham said. "Each month since then, we've improved our performance, and so far we've had no problems meeting our loan payments."
Charles Lockhart, Cloverleaf's executive director, said there have been no unpleasant surprises. "Everything has gone according to how we thought it would develop. We're glad to have Dennis and his team on board. We've haven't agreed with Dennis on everything he's done so far, but then no one is going to agree all the time. So far, we've got very favorable first impressions of him."
Business under Colt management had declined to such a degree earlier this year that Rosecroft gave up three of its most prestigious stakes, the Messenger, Colonial Trot and William E. Miller Memorial Pace. All three, worth a total of $1 million, went to other tracks for at least three-year terms, and there's some question if they will return to Maryland.
The Invitational Trot, Codey said, is "a small step, but a step forward," to begin an innovative new Rosecroft stakes program.
Wade said that S J's Photo is fit and eager to race after a monthlong rest. The horse was second in the International Trot at Yonkers and then won the American National Trot in Chicago before breaking stride twice and finishing last Sept. 20 in the Breeders' Crown.
The horse slipped in his Rosecroft qualifier because Wade didn't have the animal's hind shoes equipped with borium.
Once the blacksmith puts the gripping agent on the horse's shoes today or tomorrow, S J's Photo will return to Rosecroft on Wednesday or Saturday to qualify for the Invitational.