An illustration accompanying a story on Arabian horses in Sunday's editions from "American Horsea and Ponies," published in 1969 by Houghton and Mifflin. The book was written and illustrated by Irene Brady. (Published 12/8/87)

Shortly before a race for $5,000 Arabian claimers two years ago, a trainer at Delaware Park walked into the racing office and entered the claim booth, hoping to add to his stable.

Ordinarily, a claim is made by filling out a slip and presenting it to the claims clerk. The cost of the claim then is deducted from the trainer's account. But the Arabian horse trainer, unfamiliar with proper procedure, reached into his pockets, pulled out handfuls of cash and began stuffing it into the box. With $10,000, he figured he'd acquire a couple of horses.

"The bottom line," Delaware Park racing secretary Mel Chadwell said, "is that the entire aspect of Arabian racing has come around a long way."

And its exposure is likely to increase dramatically. Two months ago, the Maryland Racing Commission preliminarily approved a Laurel Race Course request to conduct Arabian racing; track president Frank De Francis said Arabians would race at Laurel on an experimental basis as early as next June, pending racing commission hearings.

Negative reaction initially aired by Maryland horsemen apparently is abating, and De Francis said he will discontinue Arabian racing at Laurel if it has a negative impact on the thoroughbred community. But a thread of anxiety persists among some horsemen.

"There are people here who are concerned that the Arabian {horsemen} are trying to horn in on their game," said trainer Katy Voss, a director of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "In theory, there's only so much money to be bet, so why would you want to cut into it? I'm not saying I feel that way, but some do. And I can't say {the MTHA} won't try to block it, but I don't think they will."

"I put my trust in De Francis," said King Leatherbury, long Maryland's most victorious trainer. "He's helped racing here so much, you can't condemn what he's doing. It seems we're obligated to let him play his hand before we make any objection to it."

Under De Francis' plan, Arabians would run in Laurel's first race on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, followed by 10 thoroughbred races (the second and third races would make up the daily double). Arabian horses would have a segregated betting pool, their purse structure determined by the handle they generate.

"The issue is very simple," De Francis said. "I continue to look for ways to broaden our fan base. There are some 7,500 people involved with Arabians within a 75- to 100-mile radius of us; there is a large ethnic population out of Washington, D.C., which, with its embassies and diplomatic corps, could bring people from whose part of the world Arabian horses are a staple of the economy.

"This gives us a chance to experience all the benefits of integration without any of the deficiencies. One, I will not allow Arabian horses to stable at Bowie, Pimlico or Laurel, so we don't take anything from our horsemen. Two, with separate pools and separate purses, we'll be able to determine just how much of a new fan base we're reaching.

"We'll use it as long as it's advantageous to our racing program. When it stops being advantageous, we'll cut it off."

De Francis first considered featuring Arabians at Laurel on a suggestion by Florida real estate developer Alec Courtelis, who owns and breeds Arabians. The Laurel owner's motives for implementation differ from those of officials at Delaware Park, who several years ago needed help filling races and stable stalls. The arrival of Arabians in 1984 alleviated those troubles but created additional ones.

There were problems identifying Arabians -- some had up to three tattoos -- which increased the likelihood a racehorse could be mistaken, knowingly or unknowingly. The Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau now regulates the identification of Arabians.

There were alienated thoroughbred horsemen, who considered their product superior and feared they'd ultimately subsidize Arabians' advancement into their market, and skeptical horseplayers who believed Arabians belonged at bush tracks and county fairs.

And there were uncertainties about the horses themselves. Arabians, predominantly gray, are slightly smaller than thoroughbreds, averaging 15 hands or less, with an arched neck, smaller head, shorter muzzle and large eyes.

Descendants from the Wild Libyan horses of North Africa, they arrived in Arabia between the first and sixth centuries; desert habitat ultimately reduced their need for food and water and bolstered their endurance. In the 17th century, European carting mares were bred to Arabian stallions in England, and the thoroughbred was born.

Arabian racehorses eat and drink less than thoroughbreds, are accustomed to longer races, and are much less temperamental; males are gelded much less frequently than their thoroughbred counterparts.

The contrast extends to running style. With their shorter stride, Arabians are considerably slower than thoroughbreds -- it is not uncommon to see low-grade Arabians cover six furlongs in 1:25, at least 10 seconds more than comparable thoroughbreds.

Delaware Park bettors gradually have warmed to the breed. Now, about 250 Arabians live and train at the track and are featured daily.

According to track publicist Vincent Francia, the amount wagered on Arabians was about 70 percent of that bet on the thoroughbreds, who were far less calculable. Favorites won 53 percent of Delaware Park's Arabian races, barely over 30 percent of its thoroughbred races.

The horse most responsible for drawing respect and credibility to racing Arabians is 3-year-old Fred's Revenge, who has set two tracks records in winning his six career starts by a combined 59 lengths.

"Fred's Revenge is going to force us to have {handicap races}," said racing secretary Chadwell. "He's just too good. Even the thoroughbred people are talking about him."