02/13/2002 12:00AM

One family spans history of Florida mutuels


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - When Florida racing switched from bookmakers to the parimutuel system in 1932, Mort Mahony helped usher in the new era as director of mutuels at Hialeah. Mahony had extensive experience, having helped Maryland make the transition at Pimlico in 1909. Mort was succeeded at the Miami tracks in the 1950's by his son, Riggs, who helped introduce many innovations in wagering.

Riggs Mahony's son, Pat, came here in 1967, later succeeding his father as director of mutuels.

Thus the Mahony family is celebrating 70 years of service to Florida racing. Like his father and grandfather before him, Pat Mahony's watch has been distinguished by tremendous change in wagering practices and procedures. It is a tribute to his expertise that these changes have come about smoothly.

"Exotic wagering has dominated the scene for some time," Mahony said, "and now accounts for about 65 percent of the play. We offer exacta and trifecta wagering on every race. We added a superfecta this year and we've continued with our popular rolling pick threes. There have been no dramatic shifts of late from one pool to another."

Mahony notes that simulcasting business is up this season, both at Gulfstream Park and at the 15 ITW sites located throughout Florida. Aqueduct, Santa Anita, and Fair Grounds in New Orleans are the most popular signals, and racing from Tampa Bay Downs gets a good play because of recognition of local horses. Simulcasting at Gulfstream continues on most nights to 10:30 p.m. and even 11 p.m., with signals from Penn National, Sam Houston, and Mountaineer Park.

Per capita wagering is averaging $175, off somewhat from last season. Mahony said his tellers have noted the absence of several big bettors who played at Gulfstream in previous seasons.

Don't overlook Drama Critic

John Amerman, the retired toy company executive from California who has a strong stable on the West Coast with Bob Frankel, has a smaller unit on the East Coast with Mark Hennig that is gaining increased recognition.

Amerman's Drama Critic, a 6-year-old horse by Theatrical, appears to be one of the top prospects here Saturday for the $200,000 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap, a Grade 1 race on the turf at 1 3/8 miles. The grass race will be the co-feature on an outstanding card that includes the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth Stakes for 3-year-olds, a traditional stepping-stone to the Florida Derby.

Drama Critic, who is ridden by John Velazquez, was a $160,000 yearling purchase at Keeneland. He had surgery for the removal of knee chips twice, the last time last winter, and came back in good form on each occasion. He competed strongly last fall at Belmont Park in the Grade 1 Man o' War and Turf Classic, and won last month at Gulfstream despite an eventful trip.

"He's a big, good-looking individual with a history of getting in trouble," Hennig said. "But he also has a knack for overcoming trouble, and he is a very consistent horse. He is also very comfortable with Gulfstream Park, having won 3 of 5 starts here. This looks like a very competitive, wide-open race and we think we've got as good a shot as anyone."

Hennig pointed out that he has a 3-year-old half-brother to Drama Critic by Dixieland Band called Cross Calibrate, who won his maiden here recently and appears to have a future.