Racing fans focused yesterday on the three final major preps for the Kentucky Derby -- in Kentucky, Arkansas and New York. But this Saturday, look no farther than Pimlico, where perhaps the top contender of them all is scheduled to make his final tuneup for the Derby.
The appearance by Concerto in the $200,000 Federico Tesio Stakes highlights a quality day of racing known as the Spring Breeders' Challenge.
The Tesio is for 3-year-olds born anywhere, but the accompanying four stakes worth more than $300,000 are for Maryland-breds: $60,000 Star De Naskra, $75,000 Caesar's Wish, $100,000 Geisha Handicap and $100,000 Jennings Handicap.
The 1 1/8 -mile Tesio is the ideal distance for a final tightener before the 1 1/4 -mile Kentucky Derby on May 3 at Churchill Downs. That's where Concerto, trained by Marylander John Tammaro III and owned by George Steinbrenner, will head two days after the Tesio.
"We were looking for the easiest race available," said Tammaro, explaining his choice of the Tesio Stakes. "We don't want to knock the horse out two weeks before the Derby."
But the Spring Breeders' Challenge is more than a horse race.
The Maryland Horse Breeders Association will hold its annual awards dinner the night before at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. And on Saturday at Pimlico, from 11: 30 a.m. to 1: 30 p.m., it will put on a reception for members and guests.
"This was conceived as the springtime version of the Maryland Million," said Tim Capps of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. "It's a good kickoff to the core of the spring program here, a launching pad to take you through the Derby, Pimlico Special and Preakness Week."
It also is a big day for Baltimore County community colleges. The colleges sell tickets and tables for the Spring Breeders' Challenge to raise money for scholarships. The track chips in with free admission, parking and programs.
As many as 1,500 college supporters are expected to attend the races.
"It's a good venture for everybody," Capps said. "The money they make goes to their scholarship fund. And the track gets a good number of people who wouldn't ordinarily be at the racetrack."
'We'll still be bobbing'
The $6 million the General Assembly approved for purses in Maryland could add about $15,000 a day to purses at Laurel and Pimlico. Of the $6 million, most of which will come from lottery proceeds, $4.2 million is earmarked for thoroughbreds and $1.8 million for standardbreds.
An increase of $15,000 a day would amount to a bump of about 10 percent. Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, said that, in a word, he is "grateful."
But he likened the situation to an impending disaster at sea.
"We're like the passengers on an ocean voyage who have fallen over and the boat is sinking," De Francis said.
"What we need is for another boat to drop a ladder so we can climb up and sail back to shore.
"This is like a life preserver. A life preserver is a pretty valuable thing when you're trying to keep afloat in the middle of the ocean. But we'll still be bobbing in the ocean calling for help."
Jumping to Delaware
Larry Reynolds is the first Maryland jockey to head to Delaware Park full-time to take advantage of its higher purses, the result of slot machines at Delaware tracks.
A native Marylander now living in Clarksville, Reynolds said the move is a business decision.
"The money's there," he said. "And the money's going to be even more outrageous next year. I'm sure you'll be seeing more jockeys and trainers going there.
"Without slots, Maryland's just going to fall farther and farther behind."
No hard feelings
Frank Douglas doesn't want people to forget that he, too, played a role in Captain Bodgit's success. Douglas rode Captain Bodgit his first seven races, including five straight victories in Maryland and Delaware.
"I'm still rooting for him," Douglas said. "I hope he goes all the way."
When Team Valor bought Captain Bodgit in February, it replaced Douglas with Alex Solis, the leading rider in Southern California.
Skip Away enticement
The next race for Carolyn Hine's Skip Away is a shocker: the Texas Mile next Sunday at Lone Star Park.
It was a $100,000 race until Chick Lang, longtime friend of Carolyn and Sonny Hine, got involved. Lang, a former Maryland racing official, is a senior racing consultant for Lone Star, which will launch its inaugural season Thursday in Grand Prairie, between Dallas and Fort Worth.
After Hine decided to skip the Oaklawn Handicap, he and Lang talked on the phone. He was telling me how good his horse was," Lang said, "and how he really needed a race before the Pimlico Special."
Lang mentioned the Texas Mile. But he knew the purse wouldn't entice Skip Away. So Lang approached Lone Star's managers, who upped the purse to $250,000.
The Texas Mile will share top billing that day with the $250,000 Lone Star Derby. Both races will be televised live on ESPN.
The Pimlico Special on May 10 could be truly special, with such standouts as Skip Away, Louis Quatorze, Isitingood, Key Of Luck and Tejano Run expected. Shug McGaughey says he may target Glitter Woman for the Preakness. In C C's Honor will miss six weeks of training due to shin injuries aggravated at Turfway Park. "You can't survive running on that track," said trainer Donald H. Barr. "We thank the good Lord every day for the tracks we have here in Maryland." Pee Wee Paddock has returned to Pimlico's grandstand apron and will continue every Saturday through the Kentucky Derby. Activities and snacks will be available for children.
Pub Date: 4/13/97