12/26/2003 12:00AM

TV show promotes horse industry

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"Given a chance, it's easy to fall in love with horses," said Stan Salter, a young man whose own passion for horses is pushing him into uncharted territory. The son of the late Jack Salter, a longtime Maryland owner and trainer, Stan Salter grew up on the backstretch and exercised horses for a number of local trainers before attending Towson University as an electronic media and film major.

Salter, 28, is the originator and executive producer of a one-of-a-kind television show promoting Maryland's Thoroughbred industry.

Maryland Horse Breeders Thoroughbred Weekly made its debut last summer and aired for 13 weeks until Dec. 14. It is scheduled to resume Jan. 25 for another 13-week run on WMAR-TV in Baltimore. The time slot is noon on Sundays.

The show is an eclectic mix, typically moving quickly from highlights of the week's major races, to interviews with local horsepeople, to features on local farms. It is hosted by longtime WMAR sports reporter Keith Mills, who is himself an enthusiastic racing fan.

"We've been extremely pleased with the response to the show," said Cricket Goodall, general manager of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. "The goal was to get the message out about things that the general public might not otherwise be aware of. I've been surprised at the people who have told me they are watching. One of them is my neighbor, who has absolutely no involvement with horses, or racing."

Salter said last year's show drew an average of 8,000 to 10,000 viewers a week - considered a respectable figure. "There were a few spikes of over 19,000, and some low weeks as well," Salter said. "But overall, it stayed close to that average."

More promotion for the show and a slightly different focus are planned when Maryland Horse Breeders Thoroughbred Weekly resumes for its second run. "We'll take on the breeding season with a full head of steam," said Salter. "We definitely will feature a foaling; we'll show a mare giving birth. The prep races for the Triple Crown are always exciting. We also plan to put the spotlight on Maryland-breds, and all the people who work with them. We'll do features on highly touted Maryland-bred 2-year-olds, for instance, and 7- or 8-year-olds who are still going strong."

As title sponsor of the show, the MHBA has made a well-considered financial commitment. "There was a long process of deciding whether we could afford it," said Goodall.

The other major sponsor is MidAtlantic Farm Credit, which "made a big decision as well," in Goodall's words. Additional sponsorship comes from Valley Motors and Fasig-Tipton Midlantic.

Salter came up with the idea for the show, and approached the MHBA, at a very opportune time, as Goodall explained. "With the slots legislation pending, we have a reason - more than ever - to get our message out. We need to show, closeup, what the horse breeding industry in Maryland is all about. Where horses come from, and where they go after they finish racing. The land, and the sense of environmental responsibility that goes along with it. The jobs that the industry provides - and what will happen if we lose all that."

Salter envisions for his own future bigger film projects involving the Thoroughbred industry. "Seabiscuit got there before me," he said. "But I think there's plenty of room for more."

He might also point out how the economics of racing have impacted his own life. While pursuing his college degree, Salter received two grants (in 2000 and 2001) from Maryland's Backstretch Scholarship Program. If the groups that support those scholarships, which each year total slightly more than $20,000 to several recipients, want tangible examples of the results, they need look no farther than Maryland Horse Breeders Thoroughbred Weekly.