Industry hoping to ride success of 'Seabiscuit'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Maryland Jockey Club and its parent company, Magna Entertainment Corp., raised about $200,000 for charity Wednesday with receptions at Pimlico and the Senator Theatre and the advanced screening at the Senator of the movie Seabiscuit.

In addition to raising the money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Maryland Horse Industry Foundation (the charitable arm of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association that donates to equine causes), the event also introduced the highly anticipated Seabiscuit to a Baltimore audience. Now, I wonder, will the movie introduce viewers to horse racing and entice novices to visit their local racetrack?

The racing industry is counting on it. Sadly, the racing community seems so desperate that every time a horse competes for the Triple Crown the theme becomes: A Triple Crown winner sure would help our struggling sport.

The hopeful drum beat surrounding Seabiscuit, which opened Friday, has intensified to what may be unprecedented levels. Racing itself doesn't seem capable of attracting many new fans. But Seabiscuit is supposed to drive them to the track in droves.

I saw Seabiscuit at the Senator. I'd read too much about it beforehand and tried to analyze it too deeply afterward. But, in short, I liked it. Still, if I had never been to a horse track, I don't see how my watching a movie about horse racing in the 1930s would lure me there any more than watching Rocky would prompt me to go to a boxing match.

But maybe I'm wrong. Tim Capps, executive vice president of the Maryland Jockey Club, said he's seen already what he suspects is a spike in interest from the hype of Seabiscuit.

When Laurel Park opened Thursday for its summer meet, the dining room, which accommodates about 260 people, was full. Five groups totaling 150 to 200 people had booked seats for opening day, compared to maybe two groups a year ago, Capps said. He said group sales for August have been so good that the track, as far as group sales go, might have its best August in more than a decade.

"I think the movie is making the difference," Capps said. "We've actually heard that from some people."

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association sponsored a short promotional film to precede Seabiscuit in many theaters. The NTRA offered its member tracks a five-second "tag" for $15,000 a month that would be added to the commercial to promote local racing.

Only a handful of tracks bought the five-second feature. The MJC wasn't among them. Recent cuts in the marketing budget prevented the MJC from even seriously considering it, Capps said.

However, Laurel Park and Pimlico will offer free admission to anyone presenting a Seabiscuit ticket stub. Yesterday, Laurel held drawings for Seabiscuit tickets and merchandise. The day before the Preakness, Pimlico reenacted the match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral.

On the Net

If you're interested in one-stop shopping for your racing news on the Internet, then click on www.equidaily.com.

"Equidaily Racing Journal" isn't fancy, but it features links to racing stories in newspapers and on the Internet as well as to weather reports, racetracks, handicapping selections, special sections on Del Mar and Saratoga, news from Australia and Europe, and more Seabiscuit stories and reviews than you'll have time to read.

The site is the brainchild of Seth Merrow, 45, who lives in upstate New York - Amsterdam, west of Albany, about a 30-minute drive from Saratoga. A longtime racing fan and owner of a small TV production company, Merrow started Equidaily one year ago, on opening day at Saratoga.

A frequent visitor to Internet sites and fan forums, he saw the need for one site that pulled together news from myriad sources. He says it was one of those ideas that just made sense - and one that nobody else had thought of, or at least acted upon.

Merrow gets up at 4 each morning to begin his search for racing news so that by the time the rest of us sign on it's there in one place. He says the site attracts about 100,000 visitors a month, and so far he's done it for free. He says he's hoping soon to start selling advertising.

He's worked hard, but he's also been lucky. The Breeders' Cup betting scandal, Funny Cide, the Jose Santos controversy and now Seabiscuit have generated so many stories from far-flung sources that Equidaily has become the right site at the right time.

l'Arc de Toccet?

Let me get this straight. Dan Borislow, whose Laurel-based Toccet hasn't even raced since December because of physical problems, says he wants to run his horse in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Oct. 5 at Longchamp in France. The Arc is one of the world's premier races.

First, Borislow says, the plan calls for Toccet to make his comeback in an allowance race next month at Philadelphia Park. Then, he'll run Sept. 1 in the Pennsylvania Derby. Then, he'll fly to France and run in a prep race on turf. Then, he'll run in the Arc on turf. And after that, he'll return to the U.S. and possibly run in the Breeders' Cup Classic. OK. ...

Crypto's Bid, the 3-year-old filly who splintered her right front cannon bone Thursday in the Twixt Stakes at Laurel, underwent surgery that night at the New Bolton Center. Tony Dutrow, her trainer, says she is expected to recover and eventually join the broodmare band of her owners and breeders, Ellen and Herb Moelis. ...

The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and Maryland Horse Breeders Association's joint political fundraiser begins at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow in Exhibition Hall at the state fairgrounds in Timonium. Tickets are $60 at the door. ...

New York racing officials said a horse trained by Jerry Robb and owned by Mike Gill tested positive for the prohibited anesthetic butorphanol. Tactical Side tested positive after finishing fourth June 28 at Belmont Park.

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