With Eclipse time at hand, Md. interests in running

Those 10 1/2 -inch Eclipse statuettes are heavy. If every Maryland-connected person in the running for an Eclipse Award wins, they will need a wheelbarrow to cart the hardware home.

On Tuesday night, at the historic Saenger Theatre in New Orleans, the Eclipse Awards will be presented for racing achievement in 2000. Horses Lemon Drop Kid and John's Call and trainer Scott Lake are finalists for the sport's coveted awards. Jim McKay and the Maryland Jockey Club will also receive Eclipse statuettes. Their awards have been announced.


But the winners in most categories remain a mystery. Three finalists have been announced. The winners will be revealed in an Academy-Award-like ceremony of tuxedos and formals, spotlights and dazzle.

"We're just going and hoping we'll get it," said Laddie Dance, who with his wife, Jinny Vance, owns Lemon Drop Kid, a finalist for Horse of the Year.


"We're keeping our fingers crossed," Vance said. "It would be so nice for the horse."

Vance and Dance own Taylor's Purchase Farm in Baltimore County, although they reside most of the year in Florida. Last fall they sold Lemon Drop Kid as a stallion for $30 million, with the stipulation that if he wins Horse of the Year, the price rises to $40 million. They bought him for $200,000 as a yearling.

Lemon Drop Kid is a shoo-in for the Eclipse Award as top older horse. The other finalists are Kona Gold, the sprinter, and General Challenge, the Bob Baffert-trainee.

For Horse of the Year, however, Lemon Drop Kid may be the underdog behind Tiznow, the late-developing California-bred who won the Breeders' Cup Classic as a 3-year-old. Kona Gold, the other finalist for Horse of the Year, won the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

"I think Lemon Drop Kid beat classier horses throughout the year," said Laddie Dance. "But Tiznow's winning the Breeders' Cup carries a lot of weight. It's kind of a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately kind of thing.

John's Call, who at 9 won two Grade I stakes and finished third in the Breeders' Cup Turf, is a finalist for outstanding turf horse. Tom Voss trains the phenomenal runner at his farm in Monkton.

"We're going there with guarded optimism," Voss said. "You ask different people who they think will win, and they all say a different horse. So I give myself that much hope."

The other turf finalists are Kalanisi, who won the Breeders' Cup Turf in his only race in North America, and War Chant, who won the Breeders' Cup Mile with a near-unbelievable late burst of speed.


Lake, a finalist for trainer of the year along with Bobby Frankel and Joe Orseno, is not a Marylander. But he made a huge impact on Maryland racing with 50 horses at Pimlico. He also trains 52 at Philadelphia Park and 17 at Aqueduct.

Lake far-outdistanced all North American trainers with 336 wins.

"We never dreamed we'd reach this point," Lake said. "It's a little overwhelming. We're hoping to win, for sure. But we're really glad just to be there."

McKay, the Monkton resident and longtime TV broadcaster, will receive the Eclipse Award of Merit for lifetime achievement in horse racing. The Maryland Jockey Club will receive the Eclipse Award for local television for its production of "The Preakness: An American Classic."

Bridging gap with NTRA

Although Frank Stronach's seven tracks have rejoined the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the 12 tracks in the mid-Atlantic, including Pimlico and Laurel Park, remain outside the fold.


Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, said that the tracks are continuing discussions with the NTRA.

"We've made a lot of progress," De Francis said. "There are still issues that need to be resolved. But we've made very significant strides toward a final resolution."

The main issue remains the NTRA's association with Television Games Network, the interactive horse racing channel that competes with the home betting networks of some mid-Atlantic tracks.

Stronach's decision to rejoin the NTRA means races at his tracks will be part of NTRA-sponsored broadcasts on ESPN and ESPN2. If Stronach had not rejoined, the Fountain of Youth Stakes and Florida Derby at Stronach's Gulfstream Park and the San Felipe Stakes and Santa Anita Derby at Stronach's Santa Anita Park would not have been televised.

"That's the most direct and concrete benefit," said De Francis, referring to the added exposure for races leading to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. "But it's also a step toward having an organization that again can speak for virtually all of racing."

In return for Stronach's support, the NTRA agreed to modify how directors of the NTRA and Breeders' Cup are selected, and to push for the deregulation of racing. Stronach had insisted on both changes.


Ravens and colts

Patrons wearing Ravens gear will be admitted free to Laurel Park and Pimlico today in celebration of the Super Bowl between the Ravens and New York Giants.

The tracks will offer food and beverage specials, and patrons can enter raffles for Super Bowl and Ravens merchandise to be given away between Laurel's fourth and seventh races.

Around the tracks

A four-member team representing the Maryland Jockey Club captured top honors in the team competition at the recent Daily Racing Form-NTRA National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas. Dividing first prize of $20,000 were Gwyn Houston of Forest Hill, Leo Feldman of Silver Spring, Bob Ordakowski of Hanover and Frank Okasaki of Annandale, Va. Houston also finished third in the individual competition, collecting $10,000.

Rosecroft Raceway opens its 52nd season of harness racing Thursday. Post time is 7 p.m.


The Fasig-Tipton Midlantic winter mixed sale commences at 11 a.m. next Sunday at Timonium. Two hundred twenty-eight horses are cataloged.