Brian Burton stood in the paddock before the first race one recent evening at Rosecroft and was asked what the significance is of Tuesday evening’s $100,000 Potomac Pace at the 67-year-old Standardbred facility. The trainer and driver didn’t hesitate. “It gives us a little shine,” he said.
It’s been nearly 10 years since Rosecroft held a race worth $100,000 or more. The historic facility has hosted Breeders Crown races, the Messenger Stakes and William E. Miller Memorial. Its guests have included Elizabeth Taylor, George Foreman, George Plimpton, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ken Stabler and Oleg Cassini.
But it hasn’t been since the $122,170 Wayne Smullin Memorial in 2007 that a race of significance like the Potomac Pace has been held at Rosecroft.
Yes, the Potomac Pace will be Rosecroft’s first big race since the iPhone was introduced.
“It’s very exciting,” said Thomas Cooke, president of Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners’ Association, which represents owners, trainers, drivers and grooms involved in Maryland’s Standardbred industry. “I look at this as a rebirth. It’s opportunity to show the track, the market and the product. I’m impressed by the caliber of drivers and horses coming in. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
The Potomac Pace -- featuring some of the best aged pacers in the country including Shamballa, Mach It So, All Bets Off, Wakizashi Hanover and Keystone Victory -- is one of the first steps by the Maryland Jockey Club to reinvigorate Standardbred racing in Maryland.
“We have committed ourselves to showcasing Standardbred and Thoroughbred racing in Maryland,” said Sal Sinatra, President and General Manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, whose parent company, The Stronach Group, purchased Rosecroft from Penn National Gaming earlier this year.
“We just signed a two-year extension with Cloverleaf,” he added. “Along with the Potomac Pace, we also are talking about a few Sire Stakes races in the spring and fall. Our experience in Thoroughbred racing has shown us that big days breathe life into the racing program. Come winter after this meet, we’re looking forward to doing some renovations to the grandstand and facility for our regular customers.”
Sinatra and Cloverleaf have also increased the number of racing days for 2017 from 54 to 60.
Rosecroft, which opened in 1949, has seen plenty of ups and downs throughout its history. The track has gone through several ownerships since the late 1980s and was closed to live racing for several years.
But Sinatra, Cooke and others are hoping Tuesday’s Potomac Pace is the beginning of better things.
“This is a great race,” Burton said. “[Racing secretary] Peter Hanley did an incredible job putting this race together, but we have to keep upgrading our stock and showcasing our sport. But I think this is an incredible race Tuesday night and a start. To be honest, while we would have loved to have had Wiggle It Jiggleit and Always B Miki, I think this is a better horse race and betting race. I think you’re going to see a huge performance. I think you could see a track record.”
Cooke admits he would like the track record of 1:48.2 set by his own Nuclear Breeze to stand a little longer. But he also admits a big night of racing Tuesday is the first step in helping Maryland Standardbred racing.
“I don’t want to see a track record,” said Cooke, laughing. “But this is a big opportunity for all us to show new owners and partners we’re moving forward. It’s a big step.”