The dominance of owner Michael Gill at Maryland's thoroughbred tracks may have reached its zenith in typical fashion yesterday on the final card of Pimlico's spring meeting.
With jockey titlist Steve Hamilton aboard, Gill-owned Spring Rush controlled the pace in winning the closing feature, the $50,000 Skipat Stakes, and presenting Gill with his 12th consecutive meet championship.
Gill horses won 25 races at this stand, giving him a total of 489 victories since he started competing at Pimlico and Laurel Park in October 2001.
But the entrepreneur from New England who operates a lucrative mortgage business has vowed to leave the horse racing business after numerous rifts with track officials throughout the East. He has already scaled back.
"I've probably got less than half the horses I did have," said Gill, who is dispersing the stock through sales and claims by other owners. "I put my farm up for sale and I'm down to about 200 horses, already I'm controllably backing out of the business."
Mark Shuman, who trains Spring Rush, said his trainees in Gill's barn have been reduced from "140 horses to 43. But I hope the change is just breaking it down to a more comfortable level. I know [Gill] said that God couldn't afford this one horse he has."
That one horse is a 2-year-old named Traveling Leroy, a $250,000 purchase who has the owner ecstatic about a possible Triple Crown run next year.
"I'm excited about this one and may have to stick around for him next year," Gill said. "He's named for a groom who used to go where all my horses went who I was told passed away. This horse is a Maryland-bred by Two Punch out of a Holy Bull mare.
"I've already been offered $2.5 million for him, but I'm keeping him. I feel like he'll be the last one. If nothing happens to him, this is the best horse I've ever had, and I've gone through thousands of them."
Gill has already sold his prized female, Forest Music, for $1 million and said "that hurts me. It's not something I enjoy doing, but if you're going to treat this like a business, you're forced to sell."
He stressed that his decision to quit - or at least scale back - had nothing to do with Maryland and its so-far unsuccessful quest for slot machines.
"I'd stay in Maryland if they never had a slot machine," he said. "It has more to do with Philadelphia, Delaware, New York, making it impossible to stay in business. Not getting stalls. Having to ship. I was always happy with Maryland."
Hamilton, the only jockey whose mounts earned more than $1 million in the stand, finished with a 50-45 edge on second-place Luis Garcia. Eric Camacho and Horacio Karamanos, who rode three winners on the turf yesterday, tied for third with 31.
After returning from a three-year absence when he worked in the oil fields in Oklahoma, Hamilton won the state's signature meet for the second straight year.
Hamilton also gained his first Triple Crown mount, riding Malibu Moonshine in the Preakness last month.
The training championship - his 11th straight at Pimlico - was clinched for Dale Capuano when Silver Emblem scored easily in the seventh race. That was Capuano's 15th victory during the 39-day stand.