At the Pimlico Race Course on the city's northwest side, trainers spend up to $70 on halters and about $40 on lead shanks, or leashes, for their horses.
But lately it appears that those same halters and leashes are winding up on the schnozzles of pit bulls and Rottweilers -- compliments of a band of thieves.
At Pimlico, where horses are kept in about 20 barns, equipment has been disappearing -- literally from under the animals' noses -- for about a year. But the thefts have increased sharply in the past several weeks, prompting trainers to demand tightened security from management.
"I would say on the average, three or four nights a week, something is stolen," said trainer Frank Campitelli, 56, who with his wife, Jessica, owns 16 horses at Pimlico. "The stealing has become so blatant, and we're getting hit so hard, that it can't be hard to stop."
After several leather leashes were stolen, Campitelli started buying green nylon ones, which are far less expensive, but apparently still attractive to thieves.
"A guy told me he saw one of my green lead shanks attached to a big Rottweiler over on Belvedere Avenue," Campitelli said.
He won't swear that the equipment is being used for illegal pit bull fighting, but that seems likely. Ann Taylor, media director for the Maryland Jockey Club, which manages the Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, said she has heard that the thefts are tied to dog fighting, which has been a problem in the city. "I think it kind of became apparent when people saw dogs walked in the neighborhood wearing horse halters," Taylor said.
Bobby Lillis, benefits coordinator for the Maryland Horsemen's Assistance Fund, said a horse's halter is a "pretty good fit" for a pit bull when put on backward.
"It appears the purpose is to harness pit bulls," Lillis said. "It's a really big problem."
And trainer Tater Pruitt said he has seen Rottweilers at convenience stores wearing horse equipment. He and his wife, Peggy, own about 30 horses, including 11 at Pimlico. Two weeks ago, three of their halters were stolen.
"A lot of them have nameplates on them, but the ones they took did not have our particular name on them," Pruitt said. "They don't care about the horse's name [being on there] but they don't want one with a stable name on it."
The thieves are apparently taking the halters and lead shanks right off the horses, trainers say, adding that the thefts are likely occurring after midnight.
Pimlico has a 24-hour security force, said Bob DiPietro, executive vice president of the Maryland Jockey Club. He said he learned of the severity of the problem only two weeks ago and has installed more lighting, hired additional security guards and instructed them to scrutinize the ID's and licenses of everyone entering the facility.
"These measures were put in place over the last four or five days," DiPietro said yesterday. "And there will be more coming."
DiPietro said Pimlico guards are now required to report all thefts to the local police. Campitelli and Ann Merryman said in many instances, trainers reported the thefts only to police and not to the security firm. Officer Lewis Yamin of the Northwestern Police District said authorities weren't aware of the magnitude of the problem at Pimlico. He said a report last week said that someone used a fire extinguisher to break into Barn D and steal four lead shanks, four whips, four head stalls, a telephone answering machine and a drill from trainer Holly Hall.
Merryman and Campitelli said they will wait a few weeks to see whether the problem is curbed. DiPietro said trainers can help by notifying guards of all thefts and of anything -- or anyone -- out of the ordinary.
DiPietro said an investigation is continuing.
Laurel Park has occasional thefts but nothing of the magnitude at its sister track, DiPietro said.
Scott Savin, executive director for the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, based in Miami, said the thefts aren't occurring all over.
"I know it's not a problem here in Florida," said Savin. "As far as nationally, we've heard nothing here in this office that would indicate that there's anything out of the ordinary anywhere else. It may be a problem that's isolated to Pimlico."
Pub Date: 9/29/99