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Horse Racing: Meadows alters trailing methods

Sunday, March 02, 2003

By Pohla Smith, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Part of The Meadows' experiment with trailing horses at the start is over; but the other will continue along with a couple innovations that start March 11 and will run through the year.

During February, track management and the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association experimented with taking the No. 9 horses off the starting gates and putting them behind the rest of the fields as trailers to give them a little more chance. In the two superfecta races on each card, there were 10-horse fields with both the Nos. 9 and 10 as trailers. The experiment was designed to see if the changes would generate more excitement and, therefore, a bigger handle.

Now the No. 9 horse is going back on the gate, but the straight gate will be converted into a slanted gate, which lessens the disadvantage of starting from the outside post. The gate will not be as slanted as it was a couple years ago when The Meadows and the horsemen tried it.

The 10-horse superfectas will remain in place, but only the 10 horse will be a trailer.

The horsemen asked to put the 9 horse back on the gate, and MSOA vice president Norm Parker said the prime reason is that the contract between the track and horses calls for all horses to be on the gate in stake races.

"A late-closer series starts [Tuesday], and that counts as stakes racing," he said. "The overall big concern was the contract issue. We didn't want confusion among the betting public by having trailers in some races and others not."

And there was at least one other complaint from horsemen.

"When you looked at the statistics, it seemed the 8 horses just became the old 9," Parker said. "It seemed to disadvantage more horses while only helping one."

Parker acknowledged that there were a few horsemen who wanted to see the 9 horse continue to be used as a trailer, but the majority did not.

The horsemen and management reached a compromise in order for the 10-horse superfecta races to remain in place. Now, horsemen will receive 3 percent of the purse money for sixth place. In harness racing, purses generally are paid through fifth place. The additional money will come from management accounts rather than the purse account.

"[General Manager Drew] Shubeck still felt strongly about the 10 horses in the superfecta," Parker said. "In return, they agreed to pay the sixth-place horse."

Churchill to sell Ellis

With CEO Tom Meeker calling Ellis Park "a drag on earnings," Churchill Downs has told shareholders it will sell the Henderson, Ky., track, which operates just a few weeks a year.

Churchill Downs Inc. bought Ellis and a training center in Lexington, Ky., for $22 million in 1998, when it first began acquiring other tracks. Once CDI bought Arlington Park in Chicago, Ellis Park was no longer as useful.

The training track was sold to Keeneland.

It has been reported in Henderson that Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Mike Pegram and the Johnston family that operates Maywood and Balmoral harness tracks in the Chicago area, are the top candidates to purchase Ellis.

Tampa Bay record

Trainer Kathleen O'Connell set a Tampa Bay Downs record Feb. 23, winning four races on the card. The previous mark was three winners, held and tied by several trainers over the course of the track's 77-year history.

"I thought all four had a great shot," O'Connell said. "They were all in good spots either picking up a condition or finding a soft spot making for a great day."

A hot jockey

If you're looking for a hot jockey to back on the Maryland simulcasts, try Ramon Dominguez. From Feb. 1 through Feb. 27, he won on 35 percent of his mounts.

Dominguez, 26, won 25 of his first 71 mounts last month and threatened to catch Eclipse Award-winning Ryan Fogelsonger as top rider for Laurel Park's winter meet.

During that same period, he won on 13 of the 14 cards not canceled by bad weather with nine multiple win days, including five in a row.

Pohla Smith can be reached at psmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228.

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