Rain creates havoc at racetrack

April 05, 2004|by LARRY YANOS

Rain, rain go away ... come again another day.

The recent wet weather in the Tri-State area has created havoc for Charles Town Races & Slots.

Live racing was stopped after five events on Thursday and the complete, 10-race card was scrapped for Friday.

"We're losing too many dates," said Ann Hilton, president of the Charles Town Division/Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. "The track was deemed unsafe after the fifth race on Thursday and again on Friday, and we had no choice but to cancel."

Hilton said management and horsemen continue to hold meetings concerning resurfacing of the racetrack but no timetable has been established.

"Work needs to be done," Hilton said. "Racing the year-around takes its toll on a racetrack. We continue to discuss resurfacing the track and banking it to allow a better drainage situation."

Combs set for new job

Donnie Combs has been named the executive director of the Charles Town Division/Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.


Combs, who will officially take command of his new duties on April 15, is currently an assistant racing secretary and alternate steward for the New York Racing Association.

He worked in the racing secretary's office at Charles Town before pursuing positions in Florida and New York.

"It really wasn't a tough decision," Combs said Thursday from Aqueduct in New York. "They've treated me great here, but this was a chance to come home, to be with family and friends. It was too good to pass up."

Combs' mother and father live in the Charles Town area, as do other members of his immediate family. And his wife, Debbie, also has relatives in the surrounding area, including Hagerstown.

Combs was born and raised in Winchester, Va.

He visited his mother in Martinsburg, W.Va., earlier this year, interviewed with the HBPA Board of Directors that same day, and was officially offered the job March 1.

"It didn't take long for me to accept," Combs said. "I haven't been to Charles Town that much over the last 20 years but what I see and what I hear, it is very impressive. A big, big change to what it was when I was there."

Combs said he has now "come full circle" in the thoroughbred horse racing industry.

"I was there, then spent nine years in Florida, another nine in New York and now I'm coming back home," Combs said. "I'm really looking forward to it."

Combs already knows Hilton, as well as many of the HBPA board of directors.

"I respect them and I hope to represent them well," Combs said. "I understand there's a lot of enthusiasm among the horsemen and a good relationship between horsemen and racetrack management. I want to see that continue. I will be involved with different aspects with the HBPA."

Combs, indeed, still has a place in his heart for the West Virginia thoroughbred racetrack.

"I've enjoyed my work everywhere, but Charles Town was nice," Combs said. "What I liked about Charles Town was the variety. There was no so-called 'specialist' in the racing secretary's office. I was clerk of scales for a while, but I also worked as an identifier, as a paddock judge and patrol judge. It was good experience working in so many different areas and was very beneficial."

Combs left Charles Town in the 1980s and worked at the three Florida racetracks - Gulfstream Park, Calder and Hialeah - before accepting a job in New York. There, he worked at Belmont Park, Aqueduct and Saratoga.

Hilton is delighted that Combs accepted the job as executive director.

"We're very fortunate to have someone with his experience. He knows a lot of people and should do very well," Hilton said. "He'll represent the horsemen on a number of issues involving the racetrack and attend national conventions and racing commission meetings."

Maryland notebook

Jockey Steve Hamilton had not been aboard a horse at Pimlico since 1999, but the 30-year-old made up for lost time on Wednesday afternoon, riding three winners on opening day of the spring meet.

"What a way to start things," said Hamilton, who re-joined the colony in January after a three-year absence and finished fifth in the recently completed Laurel Park winter meet. "Everything just clicked."

* Laurel Park concluded its winter meet last Sunday, posting total wagering figures which are two percent higher than last year.

All-sources handle totaled $245 million for the winter meet, compared to $240 million in 2003.

The winter meet consisted of 62 live days, two more than in 2003.

* The 13-week Laurel Park winter meet ended with Ramon Dominguez, Jerry Robb and Michael Gill winning individual titles.

Dominguez captured his first riding title in the state since winning the 2001 fall meet, visiting the winners' circle 88 times, 35 more than Jeremy Rose. Abel Castellano Jr. (46 wins), Jozbin Santana (34) and Steve Hamilton (32) rounded out the top five.

Robb won his second Laurel Park training title, winning 36 races, three more than Dale Capuano. John Rigattieri (21), Mark Shuman (19) and Phil Schoenthal (17) completed the top five.

Gill reigned supreme in the owner standings for the seventh straight meet at the major Maryland tracks, finishing first 66 times. John Alecci was a distant second with 15 winners.

Larry Yanos is sports editor of The Daily Mail. He covers horse racing for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2311, or by e-mail at

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