MD Horse Racing Top Ten Storylines of 2011

December 29, 2011 | Gary Quill

2011 provided plenty of interesting stories and records in horse racing, many of which occurred in the state of Maryland. In my humble opinion, here are the Top Ten storylines that had connections to Maryland thoroughbred horse racing.

#10 – Maryland-bred Concealed Identity winner of the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico, ran a tough 10th in Preakness. Though all the chips didn’t fall into place in order to have a chance in the Preakness, it seemed to be the coming
out party for a potential future training star in Maryland, Lacey Gaudet. Daughter and assistant trainer of longtime Maryland conditioner Edmond D. Gaudet, Lacey seems poised to take over her Dad’s operation in the near future. She was very accommodating when I interviewed her following the Preakness Post Position Draw and in my mind is a straight shooter and has the drive to succeed in this very tough and competitive business. Remember the name. Odds are you’ll be seeing her more often in the Winner’s Circle in 2012.
Concealed Identity
Photo credit Jim McCue / Maryland Jockey Club

#9 – Local trainer Chris Grove saddled 3 year old colt Norman Asbjornson in the Preakness Stakes. Though he finished 11th on the local track that day, he experienced a meteoric rise in early spring and found himself on the Derby Trail. In his second start after breaking his maiden at Penn National, he ran 2nd in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, then followed that up with a 4th place finish in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial. After taking the summer off, “Norman” returned to racing in September taking an allowance race, ran 6th in the Grade 2 PA Derby, then completed his 3 year old campaign with two runner-up finishes in minor stakes races.
Norman Asbjornson
Photo credit Jim McCue / Maryland Jockey Club

#8 – In June, The Stronach Group acquired the racing and gaming assets formerly held by MI Developments Inc.which included Pimlico Race Course, Laurel Park and the Bowie Training  Center. Belinda Stronach, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Stronach Group, said: “The acquisition of MID’s racing and gaming assets positions The Stronach Group at the forefront of the thoroughbred horse racing industry. We are fully committed to ensuring the success and profitability of our strong portfolio of racing and gaming operations. We also look forward to working with the horse racing industry and all of its stakeholders to ensure the long-term success and viability of the industry.” As far as I’m concerned, this is much ado about nothing, as whether it’s MID or The Stronach Group, the same person (Frank Stronach) will still be calling the shots for the MJC. IMHO, Stronach is to Maryland horse racing as Angelo is to the Baltimore Orioles. .. and the comparison excludes the fact they are owners. Horse racing in MD needs to be more innovative, such taking a stab at Night Racing and creating a coordinated schedule with regional tracks.
Frank Stronach Peter Angelos
Photo courtesy of AndreasTischler.com         Photo courtesy of Jim Burger/PressBox

#7 – King T. Leatherbury surpassed 6,300 wins in 2011 (6,332 & counting), third highest of all-time (behind Dale Baird and Jack Van Berg) resisted the temptation of putting up a $100k supplemental entry fee to run Ben’s Cat in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, a race where he would have been no less than the 3rd betting choice. In order for Leatherbury to “get his money back” in purse money, Ben’s Cat would have had to have finished no worse than third. In that race, a horse named Perfect Officer who Ben’s Cat had beaten by a half length two races back, did finish third. Hindsight being 20-20, seems like King may have passed up a couple hundred thousand dollars by not taking the gamble.

Letherbury and Pino 6300

Photo credit Jim McCue / Maryland Jockey Club

#6 – Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and MJC teamed up for the second consecutive year on Black-Eyed Susan Day, Friday May 20th. The race day was highlighted by the 2nd annual (?) All female retired jockey race which was again a very emotional event.

#5 – Preakness 136 turned out to be a beautiful day as far as the weather, events and wagering-wise for the Maryland Jockey Club and the 2011 Preakness Infield Fest organizers. Three years removed from the “DO NOT BYOB Policy”, fans returned by the tens of thousands to enjoy music of Bruno Mars and Train, who by all accounts were a smash hit with the crowd. The question is… What will MJC do in 2012 for Preakness 137 to top that? BTW – Who won the Preakness on May 21, 2011?

Preakness 136
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images North America

#4 – An agreement between the Maryland Jockey Club and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association on racing 146 days at Laurel Park and Pimlico in 2012. This agreement was then approved a week later at the Maryland Racing Commissions monthly meeting on Dec. 20th. Too bad the U.S. Senate and Congress cannot agree as these parties can… for the good of racing inMaryland.

#3 – 50 year old Mario Pino became the 13th winningest jockey in NTRA history when he guided home 13-1 longshot Torcello to victory in the 2nd race at Laurel Park on November 17th to win his 6,385th race, passing Hall of Fame rider Eddie Delahoussaye. Ironically a horse named Ed’s Desire was Pino’s mount for career win #1 at the ripe young age of 17 at old Bowie Race Course back in January of 1979. As of this writing “Super Mario” is one victory shy of tying Larry Snyder (6,388) for 12th, with Sandy Hawley (6,450) and Earlie Fires (6,470) in his sights to break into the Top 10.

Mario Pino

Photo credit Jim McCue / Maryland Jockey Club

#2 – Maryland-based trainer Graham Motion shocked the thoroughbred horse racing world on the first Saturday in May as his 24-1 longshot Animal Kingdom blew by the competition in deep stretch at Churchill Downs to win the Kentucky Derby. Just weeks earlier Motion’s supposed “first stringer” Toby’s Corner, winner of the Wood Memorial came up lame after a typical morning gallop at his home training track at Fairhill in Cecil County, forcing him to be withdrawn from Derby consideration. A crushing blow to Motion at that time. A storyline made for Hollywood.

Graham Motion
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images North America

#1 – Rapid Redux. Winner of a record 21 consecutive races, surpassing Zenyetta and Pepper’s Pride (who each had won 20 in a row). His record breaking effort came on December 6th at Laurel Park. His owner is Towson native Robert Cole, Jr. who thankfully decided not to run one more time in 2011, thus being content to share the record of 19 races won in a single year, with the great Citation, who did it as a 3 year old while winning the Triple Crown.

Rapid Redux                        Citation
Photo credit: Barbara D. Livingston

Do you have any that you feel deserve to be in the Top Ten?

Happy New Year… which indicates the start of Kentucky Derby Trail.

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5 Comments For This Post

  1. Michael Horvath Says:

    I could type all day on #8, The most glaring is the 3 year deal Stronach agreed to last year that lasted less than 12 months. The second is that the handle for Laurel/Pimlico has been in steady decline for 5 years. Coincidentally, that is when Stronach decided to sue TVG and get the Laurel/Pimlico signal to HRTV, which only broadcasts Laurel’s first 4 races on a Saturday. Did I mention that TVG reaches many more viewers as well? For a successful business man, that decision is highly questionable.
    [GQ added: He should stick to selling auto parts in Canada. His track record (no pun intended) with his horse racing holdings has been less than stellar.]

  2. Ruben Says:

    #11. Slot money makes Maryland purses competative against its neighbors? With the Anne Arundel Casino coming on line in June, the era of $30,000 maiden claimers may be coming this fall.

    Not that I’m a Stronach fan, but the HRTV switch made sense given it’s affiliation with XPress Bet, a Magna/Stonach holding and TVG’s biggest rival. Stronach wants to have all of his tracks races on one channel. As for HRTV only broadcasting the first 4 Laurel races on Saturday, that’s only true for the first 3 months of the year when their schedule is packed with Aqueduct, Golden Gate, Fairgrounds, Oaklawn, Gulfstream, and Santa Anita. After closing days for the last four tracks in April, HRTV does go full card for Pimlico.

    [GQ added: I'll second that #11 and admit that I find myself tuned into HRTV more than TVG.]

  3. Michael Horvath Says:

    I understand the affiliation and who owns what. I also believe that HRTV is far superior to TVG in programming and especially in personalities. However, from strictly a business view, Ruben admits that the first 3 months are an issue (where HRTV stops showing Laurel races). In other words, you would be willing to sacrifice 3 fulls months of wagering to get one month at Pimlico???? Not to mention, HRTV as far as I know, does not even broadcast in California so all that exposure is lost as well. In addition, Laurel now runs on Tuesday and HRTV does not even broadcast on Tuesday. My final thought on this is that in 2010, TVG handled $609M while XpressBet handled $181M.

    If you are struggling like Maryland racing, the obvious business choice is to leave the signal on TVG or at least share it.

  4. Michael Horvath Says:

    Did you see where Charles Town set an all time handle record for 2011? On track handle DROPPED by 8.5% while setting the record. Oh yea, they were on TVG and the winter months were strong….the same winter months that HRTV cuts off for Laurel in order to show one month of Pimlico. “FAIL TO PLAN IS A PLAN TO FAIL”!
    http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/66770/charles-town-sets-handle-records-in-2011

  5. ruben Says:

    What’s in Stronach’s best interest financially isn’t necessarily the same as Maryland racing’s best interest in the short and medium term. And Stronach is the one who ultimately calls the shots. July should be very interesting when the MJC has to come up with their buisness viability plan sans slots at Laurel.

    I’m not entirely sure TVG would go full card for Laurel at least in the fall since that when their schedule gets packed with Keeneland/Turfway Park, Delaware, Woodbine, Belmont, Monmouth (assuming NJ horse racing survives) and Hollywood (depending on where the Oak Tree meet ends up).

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