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Colonial to battle red for fourth season

THE BALTIMORE SUN

This is the fourth time, so one supposes it now constitutes an annual event: the migration of racing from Maryland to Virginia for the Colonial Downs thoroughbred meet.

Situated midway between Richmond and Williamsburg, Colonial Downs begins its 32-day meet tomorrow, the same day Timonium closes. Colonial Downs will run Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until Oct. 17. Post time will be 3 p.m., except on Oct. 7, the date of the $200,000 Virginia Derby. Post time that day will be 1 p.m.

Racing will resume at Laurel Park on Wednesday, Oct. 18, the day after Colonial Downs concludes its thoroughbred season. The Maryland Million will be Oct. 21 at Laurel.

Colonial Downs lost money each of its first three seasons. After bleeding nearly $5.4 million in 1998, it lost "only" $1.1 million last year under the management of the Maryland Jockey Club, namely John Mooney. The MJC manages the track and its four off-track-betting parlors in return for 2 percent of money wagered in Virginia.

The MJC does not own Colonial Downs. Jeffrey P. Jacobs is the majority stockholder. A developer with offices in Ohio and Florida, he has been in hot water with creditors, legislators, the Virginia Racing Commission, horsemen and communities where he has tried in vain to open OTBs.

Jacobs has threatened to sell the track, a threat few take seriously. He has threatened to shut it down, a threat that many consider more likely. Since neither has occurred, the fourth annual Colonial Downs' meet will go on.

Mooney, ever the optimist, said he hopes to break even this year. He says simulcast centers outside Virginia have shown more interest than ever in obtaining Colonial Downs' signal. The track's races will be shown at 105 simulcast outlets, up from 87 last year, Mooney said.

Whatever the complaints about racetrack ownership (and there are always complaints about racetrack ownership), the fact remains that racing at Colonial Downs is interesting in that it features turf races with usually large fields. And the track and environs are pleasant and peaceful, a tonic for stressed-out East Coast nerves.

"The turf course is better than it's ever been," Mooney said. "It's had lots of rain. There's nothing better for a turf course than mother nature."

Probably the finest turf course in the country, it is also the widest at 180 feet. The dirt track is equally acclaimed. Horses barrel past, but you hardly hear them, their hooves' impact absorbed by the velvety surface.

Lenny Hale, another MJC transplant serving as Colonial Downs' racing secretary, said he has received applications for the 900 available stalls and has 100 horses on a waiting list. Horses will run for about $125,000 per day in purses, in addition to the 17 stakes, of which nine are for Virginia-breds and 11 are on turf.

After the thoroughbreds depart, Colonial Downs will run a 40-day harness meet from Oct. 27 to Dec. 23. Post time will be 5 p.m. Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, and 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. For more information about the track, go to www.colonialdowns.com on the Internet.

Nice problems

Back home in Maryland, Grover G. "Bud" Delp faces a dilemma other trainers would envy: Mapping out races for his stakes-caliber horses.

With 18 horses in his Laurel Park barn from noted breeder and owner Robert E. Meyerhoff, Delp has been saddling more top horses than perhaps at any time in his long and accomplished career.

He gained the Meyerhoff horses late last year when Meyerhoff and his longtime trainer, Richard W. Small, ended their association.

A winner of four straight for Delp by a combined 30 1/4 lengths, Include will compete tomorrow in the $300,000 Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park. A 3-year-old son of Broad Brush, who won the Pennsylvania Derby in 1986, Include prepared for the race with a 9 1/2 -length victory Aug. 12 in the Vincent A. Moscarelli Memorial Stakes at Delaware Park.

After that race, Include's jockey, Mark Johnston said: "He might be a super horse."

In the Grade III Pennsylvania Derby, Include, the 3-1 morning-line favorite, will face 10 3-year-olds, including the 4-1 Thistyranthasclass, trained by the Bowie-based John J. Tammaro III; the 5-1 Trajectory, trained by Marylander H. Graham Motion; the 6-1 Hal's Hope, winner of the Florida Derby; the 6-1 Mass Market, winner of the West Virginia Derby, and the 20-1 Pickupspeed, trained by Laurel-based Larry Murray.

"Every button I've pushed, he's answered the call," Delp said. "We'll let him take a big step up now. He's ready for this step."

Another Delp-Meyerhoff standout, Concerned Minister, blistered 1 1/6 miles at Delaware Park Wednesday in a near-record 1 minute 41.73 seconds. A son of Concern and Star Minister, he won by nine lengths and is now 4-for-5. His only loss occurred in the West Virginia Derby, after which Delp discovered mucus in his lungs.

Before last week's explosion at Delaware, Delp had planned on pointing Concerned Minister to the Maryland Million Classic. His pleasant dilemma now is instead considering the $250,000 Pegasus Handicap on Oct. 27 at the Meadowlands.

Stellar Brush, Meyerhoff's star 4-year-old who last year won the Ohio and West Virginia Derbys, passed through Delp's barn earlier this summer. But after a couple of workouts he aggravated a tendon injury from last fall and returned to the farm.

Raffle for fund

The Timonium jockeys are sponsoring a raffle for the benefit of the disabled jockeys' fund. Among the items to be raffled after the ninth race tomorrow (you don't have to be present to win) are baseball and movie memorabilia autographed by Cal Ripken Jr. and Leonardo Di Caprio. Tickets will be $2 and will be available at a table near Timonium's main grandstand entrance, second-floor reserved-seat booth, racing secretary's office and jockeys' room.

Head of steam

In his first race since the Ohio Derby in July 1999, when he suffered a chipped knee, Valhol cruised to a 1 1/2 -length victory Tuesday in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Delaware Park. At the time, Valhol was stabled at Bowie with trainer Dallas Keen, but on Thursday Keen transferred his 25 horses, including Valhol, to Colonial Downs.

"The next time we'll run him for a whole lot more money," Keen said of the 4-year-old gelding, who was disqualified from victory in last year's Arkansas Derby because his jockey carried an electrical device.

Honor for McKay

Jim McKay has been named the recipient of the National Turf Writers Association's Joe Palmer Award for meritorious service to racing. At its annual awards dinner Nov. 1 in Louisville, Ky., the NTWA will also honor jockey Pat Day and Los Angeles Times turf writer Bill Christine.

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