The average racing fan is not likely to notice much difference, but the recent purchase of the Daily Racing Form has unified past-performance data and given most North American tracks two chart callers.
"We're up and running with the new system at all but a few obscure tracks," said Chuck Scaravelli, director of field operations for Equibase, the administrator of the merged personnel operation.
"Happily, we were able to get the cream of the crop from the Form, and it turned out to be about a 50-50 split. The two you have in Maryland [Keith Feustle and Bill Brasaemle] are both top of the line."
The two callers alternate races and reporting of data entries to Equibase, allowing two sets of eyes to view what happens during a running.
The new style in the Form will include expanded trouble lines -- when a horse encounters difficulty -- to give a more detailed race description.
Maryland's system went into effect last week with one hitch. Fans occasionally have to decipher the names of horses in the past performances, which are often severely abbreviated.
"That is at the discretion of the vendor," Scaravelli said. "We just disseminate data; the individual tracks decide how to present it."
Trainer Tom Voss clinched the national steeplechase title last year with a magnificent run at Saratoga, but things are not going as well this summer.
Although Voss has 18 horses at the "Spa," he said: "It doesn't look so good to me right now. Everything seems to be going against us."
A case in point: In one of his first jump races, a horse who was about to miss a fence ducked in suddenly and knocked out Voss' entry, Big Lick, and several others.
Voss did win the Open House, the first-day feature, but matching the 11 victories he posted at the track in 1997 appears out of the question.
Voss entered the meeting atop the trainer standings again, "but the way things are going," he said, "I might not be there for very long."
Good signs in Virginia
Virginia appears to be getting its act together despite the financial problems at Colonial Downs.
"I'm real encouraged by the way Colonial Downs and the horsemen's groups are working together," said Robin Traywick Williams, the state's racing commissioner.
"On the issue of marketing and promotion, [track owner Jeff] Jacobs seems to be willing to work with the horsemen and there is a lot to market with the turf course and an attractive stakes schedule."
The commission has approved a 25-day racing schedule -- with action five days weekly -- starting Sept. 7 that avoids all conflicts with Timonium except for Labor Day.
Three groups, including the Maryland Jockey Club, have agreed to provide $20,000 each to supplement Colonial's $400,000 marketing budget, and Jacobs is furnishing a $1 million, low-interest loan to ease the cash-flow problem.
Maryland horsemen earlier dispatched a letter to the commission expressing concern about purse distribution in light of the track's projected losses.
But Williams is confident they have nothing to be concerned about.
"All the procedures are in place and that money is accounted for," she said. "I've asked the staff to be extremely vigilant about this. If there is the slightest problem, I want to know."
Betting on Timonium
The $200,000 increase in purse allotment and the erasure of all but one day of conflict with the Colonial Downs meeting may help Timonium shatter betting records this year.
"Only overlapping once with Virginia has to help," said Timonium racing secretary Georganne Hale. "But the purse increases are the biggest thing."
Full fields are now almost a certainty for the fairgrounds track, which underwent a resurgence several years ago with the introduction of simulcasting.
Hale said that the trainer's bonus -- traditionally a $5,000 winner-take-all payoff -- has been expanded to $10,000, with the first four finishers receiving money.
Many of the top local jockeys, including national champion Edgar Prado, Alberto Delgado, Steve Hamilton, Mark Johnston, Mario Pino and Larry Reynolds, are expected to compete.
The meeting opens Aug. 29 with the $40,000 Bobby Hale Stakes and concludes Labor Day with the $40,000 Winning Colors Stakes.
'Day at the Races'
Timonium will also showcase "America's Day at the Races" on Labor Day.
The program will feature a Ruffian exhibit, demonstrations by veterinarians, a number of giveaways, autograph signings by jockeys and equine photographs.
Cup format switch
The 15th Breeders' Cup, scheduled for Nov. 7 at Churchill Downs, will feature a return to the format of the inaugural program in 1984.
The Juvenile will start the lineup after three undercard races, followed by the Juvenile Fillies, Sprint and Mile, all $1 million events. The Distaff, with a $2 million purse, was moved to the eighth race.
The Real Quiet-Victory Gallop rivalry resumes Aug. 9 at Monmouth Park in the $1 million Buick Haskell Invitational.
Coronado's Quest, injured for much of the Triple Crown series, should add to the intrigue in this race, which will have a major impact on the 3-year-old championship.
Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet will carry high weight of 126 pounds.
Pub Date: 8/02/98