Michael Gill issued a challenge yesterday to the racing world: If you don't name him the winner of the Eclipse Award as outstanding owner this year, then he'll be even more determined to win next year.
"I'm going to make it so they have to give it to me," said Gill, one of three finalists for the owners Eclipse. "If I have to win 700 races, then I'll win 700 races."
Gill spoke in the winner's circle at Pimlico after receiving the trophy for leading owner in Maryland in 2004. Horses owned by Gill, 48, who lives in New Hampshire and owns a mortgage business, won 153 races last year at Pimlico and Laurel Park. The second-leading owner, John Alecci, won 27.
Gill also led owners nationally in wins and earnings. His horses won 487 races, seven short of the record, and earned $10,835,561. He dominated both categories.
Of course, he races more horses than anyone - far more horses. His horses raced 2,885 times, compared to the second-busiest owner, Dale Baird, whose horses raced 1,055 times.
Gill is an Eclipse finalist as top owner with Stronach Stables and Sarah and Ken Ramsey. The winner will be announced Jan. 24. Gill was also a finalist last year after leading owners in wins and earnings in 2003.
"I don't ever see my name written when it doesn't have 'controversial' in front of it," Gill said. "But I'm OK with all that. I'm having fun still, despite everything."
Since launching his far-reaching racing operation in 1999, Gill has been at the forefront of numerous controversies, including drug violations by his trainers and conflicts with track owners. He has been denied stalls at numerous tracks. Last month, he filed suit against New York racing authorities to try to overturn drug positives for two horses he ran last summer at Saratoga.
Gill stables about 80 of his approximately 370 racehorses at Bowie. He also boards about 20 broodmares at Bonita Farm in Darlington. He said his mares will all foal in Maryland, despite richer breeding incentives in nearby states, and he said Maryland will always be his racing base.
"When I struggled at different places throughout the country, Maryland was my friend," Gill said. "Out of all the places, no matter how big I get, no matter how many horses I get, Maryland will be my home."
Gill received his trophy as leading Maryland owner along with jockeys Ramon Dominguez (tops with a .274 win percentage) and Ryan Fogelsonger (first with 160 wins) and leading trainer Dale Capuano (94 wins; .237 win percentage). It was the seventh time in the last eight years that Capuano has led the state's trainers in wins.
Shortly after receiving his trophy, Capuano was back in the winner's circle as trainer of Rush to Glory, winner of the $50,000 Marshua Stakes, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-old fillies.
NOTES: For the second straight year, the Maryland sire Not For Love ranked first in 2004 progeny earnings ($5,441,941) among living stallions outside Kentucky. Among all sires, he ranked 16th nationally. Not For Love stands at Northview Stallion Station in Cecil County. Lion Hearted, another Northview stallion, easily led the state's freshman sires in winners (10 winners, including two stakes wins, from 14 starters). ... Laurel Park will reopen for training today on its dirt track, which was rebuilt and widened during the past seven months. Laurel is scheduled to reopen for racing Jan. 22.