On Sunday, a colt named Christopher E. made his racing debut. The 3-year-old was listed at 15 to 1 in Pimlico's racing program; his trainer, Barbara Vranas, had won two of 14 races this meeting and his jockey, Paul Nicol Jr., had won only 10 of 125.

But of greater importance to the betting public was that the Daily Racing Form published no morning workouts for Christopher E.; the program showed he worked four furlongs at Bowie in a ludicrously slow 55 seconds. Christopher E.'s ability, however, was anything but obscure to insiders and backstretch personnel. He was made a 3-to-1 favorite and led from start to finish.

Such a scenario is not unfamiliar at Maryland's thoroughbred tracks, illustrating the reason Pimlico and Laurel owner Frank De Francis is exploring methods to expand and improve the system of reporting on workouts.

"The criticisms that have been leveled against the workout system are not unfounded," De Francis said. "Our patrons have a right to as much information -- accurate information -- as possible. And I can see where {the workout system} needs to be upgraded and improved."

According to rules that govern Maryland racing, a thoroughbred unraced for 30 days must show a published workout either in the Daily Racing Form or the day's racing program. Under certain conditions, a trainer can report a workout to racing officials and the information be conveyed over the track's public address system.

A trainer is required to sign an affidavit when orally reporting a workout, but racing secretary Larry Abbundi said exceptions are made.

"Some trainers refuse," Abbundi said last week. "Maybe they have certain horses in their barns which they can't work between races. They have horses that won't work; they have horses that, if they work, they can't race because of their infirmities. Maybe they just gallop them, and bring them up to a race that way.

"Anytime there's been a discussion in relation to works, and the public becomes involved, it's always with the first-time starter with no published works. The horse might open at 15 to 1 in the morning line, and the next thing you know he goes off at 6 to 5, and he wins. That's when you hear the clamor.

"As far as first-time starters, I definitely feel there should be works. I don't care if the {trainer} is on a farm in Saudi Arabia, he's got to bring him here to work him."

In some states, such as California, a trainer or exercise rider must report to an identifier the name of the horse and the distance he is to work out. The identifiers, usually positioned at each fence gap where a horse can walk onto the track, relay that information to a clocker by telephone or hand-held radio. The clocker is responsible solely for an accurate timing.

Not in Maryland.

About 800 thoroughbreds are stabled at Laurel, but the Racing Form furnishes the track with only one official clocker during the Pimlico meeting. (Pimlico presently has two clockers, one of whom will go to Laurel when racing resumes there Oct. 18.) Bowie Race Course, the training center home to 1,000 horses, also has one clocker.

"This has been a practice of ours for a large number of years," said Joe Laskowski, the Racing Form's director of training and field operations. Of the risk that workouts might go unrecorded with only one clocker, Laskowski said, "Getting out of bed in the morning is a risk. Our clockers do an adequate job."

According to Milton (Muggins) Feldman, a publicist at Maryland's tracks from 1935-84, the Racing Form installed clockers in Maryland in the late 1920s. "{The Racing Form} put them here for its own benefit," Feldman said. "It wanted to give bettors more information. Quite simply, the system hasn't changed."

Although De Francis said revisions are imminent, he cannot take action without involving horsemen and the Racing Form. In addition, any changes would require Maryland Racing Commission approval.

"What makes this endeavor so complex," De Francis said, "is that there are so many components involved, we just can't go off and isolate ourselves in search of a better alternative.

"I know that most horsemen here who bring their horse out for a workout are forthright because they want confirmation of their own time-taking. We're talking about the one trainer who wants to put one over to get a price on his horse. What I don't know is, if we said we're gonna hire a second guy as a clocker, does that help us get the horse the trainer wants to hide anyhow? The answer is no.

"They have supervised workouts in California, but they're the only game in town. If we were to implement a system that was unacceptable to our horsemen here, they would have tremendous numbers of options up and down the East Coast."

De Francis said he has hired a consultant to help devise better workout procedures, and plans to present an alternative method to horsemen by year's end.

Because horses need not be reported to work out, Laurel clocker Kevin Geraghty, 23, must identify many of them solely by markings, occasionally aided by the animal's gender and the stable's saddle cloths. Geraghty, who works seven days a week, keeps a notebook in which markings for all horses on the grounds are detailed in shorthand.

"The plain horses are the ones that are hard to identify," he said. "The chestnuts with no markings. Also, you've got to keep up with all the claims -- what horses are changing barns."

To compound matters, trainer Dennis Heard recently shipped 28 horses from New Jersey to Laurel. "I got all the marks for them written down," Geraghty said, "but it's gonna take some time to learn them."

Standing on Laurel's grandstand side, in line with the sixteenth-mile pole, Geraghty named, without aid, almost every horse who passed on the track some 40 yards away. A few trainers told Geraghty how far their horses would work, but for the most part, he was on his own.

"The trainers in the barns close to here come over because it's easy for them," Geraghty said. "But for the guys {behind the backstretch}, it's tough; that's a long ride around. Even if there was a phone system, that would really help a lot."

If the trainer is not present during a horse's morning workout, the exercise rider will inform Geraghty how far the horse will gallop for timing purposes. A stopwatch in each palm, Geraghty can time up to five gate-breaking horses simultaneously, clocking the lead horse and adding one-fifth of a second for every length by which the others trail. (The starting gate is placed at the 6 1/2-furlong mark; Geraghty begins timing at the three-quarter pole.) After the work, he notifies the rider or trainer of the horse's time.

"He only has two hands," trainer Dean Gaudet said. "If you've got six horses breakin' off out there to work, you can't necessarily catch all of them. He catches probably 90 percent of the horses working, but I think it's impossible for one person to catch every horse that works."

Even when workouts are properly recorded, they can be deceiving. Said Geraghty, "A lot of times, you'll see a horse worked pretty good in the paper -- {five furlongs in} a minute and two-fifths -- but along the way they might have gone in 34 and 46 {seconds}. And if it takes them 14 seconds to get from the eighth pole to the wire, that's bad. They're not going to get very far in the afternoon."

Because The Jockey Club can experience delays in accepting applications for horses' names, it is not uncommon for not-yet-named 2-year-olds to have morning workouts. Such horses ordinarily will be identified by their stallion -- "a Secretariat colt."

Saturday's workout tab from Pimlico reported that Traffic Cop worked three furlongs in 35 seconds. A stallion since 1977, Traffic Cop died last year.