There was a time, as recently as the turn of the decade, when the start of a thoroughbred race meeting was a special occasion, having some of the excitement of a Broadway opening.
No more. That feeling is long gone, lost in the proliferation of racing dates. Yesterday's opening at Bowie was just another spin of the wheel, another day on the year-round merry-go-round Maryland cranked up in the summer of 1975.
A crowd of 6,354 turned out for the nine-race program and bet $777,740. Skies were overcast. The stands were dreary as ever. Management's improvement program consisted only of a few potted plants spotted outside the clubhouse entrance and the administrative offices.
The place is for sale, despite the owners' comments to the contrary.
Iron Streak won the $27,500 Primer Stakes over a promising field of 2-year-olds, giving the card its only touch of class. The feature lost much of its interest, however, when Pirateer was scratched.
Pirateer, winner of the To Market Stakes at Hawthorne in Illinois, would have been favored. With his withdrawal that role fell to Iron Streak, which won by two lengths over Forever Casting in :58 3-5 for the five furlongs and returned $5 straight.
Forever Casting took the place, 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Famous Czar. The runner-up originally was entered as an entry with Pirateer but was sent out alone by trainer Del Carroll and proved to be not quite good enough, except for the 6-1 exacta players who went to the windows and received $18.80 for each $2 ticket.
Danny Wright rode Iron Streak from slightly off Famous Czar's ;46 2/3 pace to score smartly. The roan Iron Ruler colt now is two for two and will go to New York for the Youthful Stakes.
A $132,000 purchase from Hialeah's January sales, Iron Streak is owned by Fred Greene Jr., Frank Scuderi and trainer Steward Mitchell. The trainer knew what he was buying, having secured the colt's stakes-winning older brother, Iron Derby, for $73,000. Iron Derby won the Primer last spring.
For Wright, the Primer was the second success in two days. He guided Cormorant to victory in the $124,200 Jersey Derby Monday at Atlantic City.
Jockey's Robert Pineda and Gregg McCarron were involved in a spill in the fourth race. Pineda, aboard Exchange Time, had just surrendered the lead when his mount fell, nearing the five-sixteenths pole. Fancy Investment, ridden by McCarron, tumbled over Exchange Time, throwing the jockey.
Both riders were taken to Doctors Hospital in Lanham for observation. Pineda may have suffered a back injury. McCarron complained of chest pains. Gregg's younger brother, Chris, rode the winner of the mile-and-a-sixteenth event, Carolina Horn, which paid $5 straight as the favorite.
Pineda's older brother, Alvaro, was killed in an accident at the starting gate at Santa Anita in 1974.
Maryland horsemen continue to be critical of the State Racing Commission and the three major tracks for running the combined 1977 summer dates at Bowie.
"The only owners and trainers who are for it are those stabled at Bowie." Billy Christmas, a director of the state breeders' association, said yesterday. "They represent only one-third of the total. Otherwise, most people wanted the meeting at Pimlico or at Laurel, if Laurel had air-conditioning.
"Both those tracks have turf courses. Bowie doesn't," Christmas noted. "Not having a turf course for summer raching hurts the handle and it hurts the horses. It's easier on them."
Several of Maryland's biggest stables will divde their stock this summer, or take the better horses out of state.
Robert Banning, Hyattsville automobile dealer, is rumored as about to be appointed the next chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission, suceeding Newton Brewer, whose terms in the House of Delegates, then was defeated a bid for a Senate seat in 1973 and 1974.