Bowie is the only race course in the hemisphere to have been laid out by an architect foolish enough to have the stands facing into the afternoon sun. For years the track has been criticized, accordingly, but during the current energy crunch, the complaints have decreased noticeably.
"We have put the thermostats down to 65, from 72, because we're gas heated and we're trying to do our part to conserve," general manager Al Karwacki said yesterday. "The sun shining through the glass certainly helps to make the stands warmer than they are, although you'll notice more people wearing topcoats than ever before."
The only ones unhappy over the cutback are the mutuel clerks and the office help. Mutuel clerks are always upset about something or other, but one of the secretaries to management came up with an ideal way to beat the lack of heat: She works in her mink coat until the office becomes warmer in the mornings.
A crowd of 14,626 bet $1,727,103 on Saturday's program, thus generating a special kind of heat in the totalisator. A few of the fans also let off a little steam after the ninth race, the Stryker Handicap, in which Winter Fox ran last - 33 lengths behind the victorious King Of Fools.
Those bettors who backed the 5-year-old, gelding claimed they had been short-changed even at 20 to 1.
Winter Fox, you may remember, won the Constellation Handicap at Laurel on Nov. 25. He then was sixth to Piped Aboard in the Congressional Handicap on Dec. 18. Thirteen days later, on Laurel's last card of 1976, Winter Fox was sent off at 9 to 2 in a nine-furlong handicap for Maryland-breds.
The performance charts show Winter Fox broke last, as is his custom, that afternoon. He was 30 lengths behind the leader after the opening quarter-mile, 42 lengths behind after a half-mile, 51 lengths off the pace through six furlongs - then was eased before the finish.
Winter Fox has been an erratic sort most of his career, running very well on occasion while being "no factor" in many other starts. Saturday he was listed without a jockey on the program, until Richard Duncan finally was named. No rider, apparently, was in much of a hurry to climb aboard the gelding, which had worked poorly during his five-week vacation from competition.
The Stryker turned out to be another dismal effort by Winter Fox. He strolled out of the gate and was out of touch with his field, 23 lengths behind the leaders, after the first-quarter mile. From there Winter Fox proceeded to fade steadily until, at the end of a mile and a sixteenth, only one rival had not disappeared from view.
"That's racing," steward Merrall MacNeille said yesterday morning. "The only thing we could do would be to look at the film, but I don't think it would show anything startling. Winter Fox had been away about a month. He is an inconsistent horse I think the answer probably lies in the horse himself. He might be a moody horse. Who knows?"
I certainly don't pretend to have the answer as to exactly what is wrong with Winter Fox, which suddenly is completely out of his element when competing in the Maryland cold. But would it be asking too much to have the stewards take a look at this nag, in a workout, before permitting him to run again?
There is such a thing as a stewards' list for horses who readiness to race is questionable. The list, naturally, applies to $3,000 claimers much more than to stake runners. But it shouldn't matter, really.
Winter Fox has been an embarrassment to his owner, William Farish, and to his trainer, Del Carroll, in his last two starts. Yet a certain segment of the public will continue to be on the gelding, no matter how badly he has gone off form. Someone should, at this point, try to protect the bettors and Winter Fox the next time.
There is no way such a horse can now be handicapped in terms of its next outing. Should Winter Fox be "distanced" again it would be a crime. Should he win, it would be an even greater crime. The best thing to do is to get the horse out of the territory until he has again shown some semblance of decent form.