Thursday, January 01, 2009


LAUREL, MD. 01-01-09---From 2002 through 2005 the familiar blue colors of owner Michael Gill visited the winners’ circle more than 500 times at Laurel Park and Pimlico. This afternoon at Laurel team Gill scored twice on opening day of the winter meet, winning with Elliot’s Exchange ($5.20-second) and Communicated ($8.40-sixth) for trainer Tim Hooper.

“It is a nice start,” Hooper said. “I was cold at the end of the fall meet so it is good to get going early.”

Gill, who won an Eclipse Award for outstanding owner in 2005, dominated the local standings for a four year period capturing 14 consecutive stands at the major Maryland tracks. He scaled back his operations in 2006 and 2007 but about six months ago began replenishing his stock at Elk Creek Ranch Training Center in southeast Pennsylvania.

“He sent 80 horses down from Suffolk (in Boston) and we just started claiming like crazy,” said Hooper, who finished fifth at the 2005 Oaklawn Park meet when he took a stable of horses to the Arkansas track for Gill. “There are 140 stalls at the barn and it got to be a little overwhelming. We split up the horses and I still have about 75, all but two for Mike.”

Gill has 200 horses currently in training. In addition to Hooper he uses trainers Mike Catalano, Murray Rojas, Marcus Vitali and recently shipped 10 horses to Chris Grove at the Bowie Training Center.

“You would think that racing secretaries in this area would be happy,” added Hooper.”But there are bad feelings about Gill because of all the claiming. What they don’t understand is when we claim they get money in their pockets and now they can regenerate their stock. He is good for the game and people should start understanding that. We certainly attack the entry box and the advantage of being on the farm is that we are not tied into one racetrack. I love to run where we can find a winning spot whether it is here, Charles Town, Penn National, Philly (Philadelphia Park). There are so many opportunities.”

Hooper was a longtime assistant to Scott Lake, helping that conditioner finish in the top three of the local standings for four consecutive years (2000-2003) before heading out on his own in 2004. The 39-year-old will saddle I’vegottobeme in Saturday’s $50,000 Native Dancer Stakes for Gill.

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