The dragon lurking across our northern border has reawakened. Heaven help us.
"It's like having a big, big monster looking over your shoulder," said Jim Mango, chief executive officer of the Maryland Jockey ++ Club. "And the monster is Delaware Park."
Delaware Park opened yesterday after drinking mightily all winter from its fountain of slots. A smattering of Maryland horses appeared on its first-day card. As spring gives way to summer and Delaware Park's slot-subsidized purses blossom even more, that smattering may turn into a stampede.
"There's absolutely no question about it," said Donald H. Barr, the third-leading trainer at the recently concluded Laurel meet.
He said he plans on racing two first-time starters this weekend at Pimlico, which opened Wednesday.
"If my horses run good," he said, "it behooves me to go up the road and run for $4,000 more."
A maiden special weight in Maryland pays $16,500, while the same race at Delaware Park pays $22,000. That's a difference of $3,800 to the winner, Barr figured.
"That's a two-month training bill," he said. "Everybody's got bills to pay. Heaven forbid if the purses get spread out worse."
Pimlico gets green ...paint
Alas, the good news. They're painting the barns at Pimlico.
Four of the nine faded -- and fading -- barns behind the Pimlico grandstand, including the stakes barn, have been painted dark green. And they look marvelous.
Martin A. Azola, vice president of facilities for the Maryland Jockey Club, said he doesn't know whether workers can get the other five painted by Preakness Week.
"We'll do as much as we can," he said.
The problem, he said, is relocating horses while workers paint.
Azola and his staff have spruced up other areas of Pimlico as well, including the paddock, the Hall of Fame level of the clubhouse and the clubhouse bar on the first floor.
Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, said this year's budget for capital improvements is $3.5 million, the highest in eight years.
"But it's a drop in the bucket considering the age and needs of our facilities," De Francis said.
Azola said he was trying to combine obvious improvements, such as painting seats and railings, with behind-the-scenes needs, such as replacing the water pipes at Laurel. Replacing those pipes, he added, cost half a million dollars.
"The shame of it is," he said, "I wish we could do more."
Simplified bets considered
Officials of the Maryland Jockey Club plan on meeting this week to consider new, simplified bets that might appeal to novice fans.
One is the even-odd bet, which Churchill Downs will introduce at its spring meet. Bettors simply pick the even- or odd-numbered horses to win a race.
Payoffs wouldn't be great, but at least people could win and cash some tickets.
MATCH races on ESPN2
Twelve races in the MATCH series will be televised on ESPN2. The series of 35 races in five age and distance divisions worth $4 million -- to be run at nine mid-Atlantic tracks -- begins April 19 and runs through Oct. 4.
The races to be televised, either live or taped, are: April 19--Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico; June 14--Matchmaker Stakes at Monmouth Park, Wilmington Handicap at Delaware Park and Norristown Handicap at Philadelphia Park; June 28--Jersey Shore Breeders' Cup at Monmouth Park; July 5--Baltimore Breeders' Cup Handicap at Laurel; Aug. 3--Philadelphia Breeders' Cup Handicap at Philadelphia Park; Oct. 5--Taped championship finales in each division.
Standings will be kept, and $500,000 in bonuses will be awarded to leading trainers and owners.
Gary Capuano, trainer of Captain Bodgit, said his horse will travel by van Friday to New York for the Wood Memorial. After winning the Florida Derby, Captain Bodgit is the Derby co-favorite with Pulpit. Pulpit's final Derby tune-up will be the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, Ky., the same day as the Wood and Arkansas Derby.
Also, John Tammaro III, trainer of Concerto, said tentative plans still call for his horse to race April 19 in the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico. After that, he said, the Kentucky Derby is a possibility, but not a certainty.
Pub Date: 4/06/97