07/09/2003 11:00PM

Horsemen of mixed minds over the Summit


MIAMI - While the concept of grouping several stakes races on the same card is not unique to Calder Race Course, the multi-stakes days have proven to be more popular and successful here than at many other tracks.

The Festival of the Sun, which features more than $1.5 million in purses and includes the final legs of the Florida Stallion Stakes, has been the track's marquee event for the last dozen years. It helped pave the way for a series of special events that now include the Florida Million, Grand Slam I and Grand Slam II in December, and Saturday's $1.75 million Summit of Speed.

Bob Umphrey, Calder's racing secretary, along with Mike Cronin, the track's vice president for marketing, and Ken Dunn, its president, have been instrumental in putting together the five promotional days and selling the idea to local horsemen. That was not an easy task, as many horsemen originally were skeptical of putting up so much purse money that might wind up in the pockets of northern invaders.

Umphrey, who in three years has turned the Summit of Speed into one of the most popular programs on the summer racing calendar, believes the event is beneficial to the track.

"I think every now and then you need to call attention to your racing product," said Umphrey, "and the Summit of Speed certainly has accomplished that goal. By delving into an area virtually free of competition - sprint races - we have been able to maximize our success. We chose the second Saturday in July because it was the least-conflicting with the other major sprint races around the country.

"It also allowed us to attract the New York and California horsemen before they went to Saratoga and Del Mar, from where shipping to south Florida would have been a much more difficult task than when they are racing at Belmont or in the Los Angeles area."

Increasing the purses for the Summit of Speed's four major stakes to record levels this year helped Umphrey lure more than 30 shippers to town.

"Naturally the extra money and having four graded races is very helpful when trying to sell these events," said Umphrey. "The Princess Rooney, which is a Grade 2, is now the richest sprint race in the country for fillies and mares all year. In fact I like to think of it as the Filly and Mare Breeders' Cup Sprint."

Umphrey defends putting up such substantial purses, even though most of the past Summit of Speed races have been won by out-of-towners.

"Because we are so isolated at Calder during the summer, overall we keep more money home percentage-wise than any track in the country," said Umphrey. "One day a year shippers come in en masse over a 123-day meeting. That's not so bad. And percentage-wise our stakes program is well within the prescribed level compared to overnight purses, about 14 or 15 percent, even with the Summit of Speed."

Local horsemen have mixed emotions about dangling so much purse money in front of northern invaders.

"I can see both sides of the argument," said Richard Root, vice president of the Florida Division of the Horseman's Benevolent and Protective Association. "From a horseman's standpoint, I would much prefer to see this money given away in overnight purses to give everyone here a better chance to make a living. But from the racetrack's standpoint, I can see their need to promote the local racing product, to occasionally bring in some of the better northern horses and let the chips fall where they may."

Trainer Shawn Musgrave agreed with Root.

"For the horseman's sake, I'd like to see all the money go into overnight purses," said Musgrave. "But a day like the Summit of Speed gives Calder great national exposure and is good for our racetrack. Since the majority of our handle comes from simulcast wagering, I think it helps everybody to promote our product once in a while."

Looking for big pick five payoff

Saturday's guaranteed $500,000 pick five will encompass the Calder Turf Sprint, Azalea Stakes, Carry Back Stakes, Princess Rooney Handicap, and Smile Sprint Handicap. The minimum bet is $1.

Last year's Summit of Speed pick four attracted a pool of more than $465,000 and returned $244.40 for a $1 wager. The projected payoff this Saturday figures to be much greater with full and wide-open fields the rule in the five races.

Amoss has his priorities

Trainer Tom Amoss is hoping he will not be able to make it down from Kentucky to saddle Miss Lodi in the Princess Rooney.

"My daughter's in the state softball championships this week," said Amoss. "If her team gets eliminated before Saturday, I'll come down for the race. But if they're still alive it's more important to me to be here to watch her play."

Todd Pletcher, on the other hand, will be doing some extensive traveling. He had tentative plans to fly down from New York to saddle Savoy Special in the Carry Back and Harmony Lodge in the Princess Rooney before catching the red-eye to California where he'll start Harlan's Holiday in Sunday's Hollywood Gold Cup.

Bailey picks up Smile mount

Jerry Bailey, who won both the Princess Rooney with Gold Mover and Carry Back aboard Royal Lad on the 2002 Summit of Speed, was briefly left without a mount in the $500,000 Smile Sprint after trainer Cole Norman decided early this week not to bring Beau's Town in for the race.

But Trainer Larry Pilotti was still looking for a rider for local Sprint hopeful Juggernaut when Norman made his decision. When informed by Umphrey that Bailey had suddenly become available, Pilotti's jockey search came to a sudden end.