Continued from part 1
For those in Maryland who breed, own, and race Thoroughbreds, the 11 Maryland Million races for Maryland-sired horses and their purses of $1,025,000 provide chances for glory and bragging rights for the entire year. In that sense, the day belonged to Allen's Prospect, the 18-year-old stallion at Country Life Farm north of Baltimore.
Four of his sons and daughters won Maryland Million events, swelling his total of Maryland Million victories by offspring to 12. He entered the day with eight, one behind Horatius and Deputed Testamony. Testing added to Deputed Testamony's total, but Horatius, the 25-year-old blue-collar sire, was shut out.
"On the biggest day in front of the biggest crowd, this is unbelievable," said Mike Pons, business manager of Country Life. "My kids call him the king. Today he is the king."
The Maryland Jockey Club reported 18,102 patrons attended the races at Laurel Park. Many came as much for the accompanying entertainment--a jousting demonstration, Jack Russell terrier races, trick riding, hospitality tents, etc.--as for the wagering opportunities.
Handle was down from last year, when a similar-sized crowd of 18,026 attended. Betting at Laurel and the state's off-track betting sites fell 7.6%, and betting out-of-state on the Maryland races plummeted 28%.
Jim Mango, the MJC's chief operations officer, said he was at a loss to explain the drop-off. The racing was competitive with full fields, a combination that usually appeals to horseplayers.
Testing attracted moderate backing in the Classic as bettors flocked to a younger, untested horse, the 3-year-old Concerned Minister. As the 8-5 favorite, the promising son of Concern contested the lead but then faded to fifth.
Watchman's Warning, a 6-1 shot, finished second; the 17-1 longshot P Day was third. Completing the order of finish were Sly Joe, Concerned Minister, Perfect to a Tee, Fred Bear Claw, Al Zaaeem, Lightning Paces, and B Flat Major.
Fortay, a high-percentage trainer especially with horses off a layoff, said that after he claimed Testing the horse suffered a stifle injury. That was why Testing, after relocating from Robert P. Klesaris' barn, had run only once since March.
Klesaris had claimed Testing for $35,000 in November 1999 in his first race after his sixth-place finish in the Maryland Million. Last year, and the previous two years, Testing ran in the Classic for trainer Bill Boniface, who raised the horse at his family farm in Maryland.
In this year's Classic, the New Jersey-based Velez rode Testing to Fortay's instructions: Don't get caught wide around the first turn, avoid trouble, and make one run. Velez bided his time at the back of the pack as the leaders sizzled through fast early fractions. Velez gunned Testing entering the far turn, and then, around the bend, roared past the field.
"I broke and just took hold of him and dropped over to the rail and saved ground," Velez said. "I knew the pace was pretty fast going down the backside...Midway around the turn, I had so much horse I felt it was time to go."
Despite Velez's flawless ride, the jockey of the day was Ramon Dominguez, who until this year rode primarily at Delaware Park. He rode three winners on his first Maryland Million Day.
The Classic was the richest race on the card, but was not the winner in the category of human interest.
The 3-year-old filly Annie McGee, a daughter of Aaron's Concorde, won the $47,500 Distaff Starter Handicap and returned $71, the largest win payoff of the day. The victory was sweet for Kathleen Dibben, the breeder, trainer, and, until January, exercise rider.
Nine months ago Annie McGee, named after Dibben's grandmother, tossed Dibben, shattering her collarbone. After two surgeries, Dibben is still not 100% and has not climbed back upon a horse. As if in payback, Annie McGee presented Dibben, who trains four horses at Bowie, her first Maryland Million win.
Caveat's Shot, by Caveat, out of the Raise a Bid mare Out of a Cannon, captured the $95,000 Ladies for her Virginia owners, Joan and Dale Everett, who race as Ben Dover Stable. Say what?
Dale Everett said they named their stable in memory of Klaus Seemuth, a friend and business partner who died in a 1986 plane crash. Seemuth bet on the horses through a bookie. His betting name was Ben Dover.
The afternoon's most impressive winner was Your Out, by Allen's Prospect, out of the Fast Play mare Our Friend Hidayet, who romped by 6 1/2 lengths in the $95,000 Lassie for 2-year-old fillies. The Lassie was only her second start. She won her debut Oct. 1 by 10 1/2 lengths for her Laurel-based trainer H. Graham Motion.
After running against some of the top fillies and mares in New York, Tropical Punch (by Two Punch) won the $95,000 Distaff Handicap--barely. Trained by James A. Jerkens, the 4-year-old chestnut sprinter dropped back to last and then needed every stride to run down Silent Valay at the wire.
"I thought this was supposed to be easy," said the New York jockey Heberto Castillo Jr. as he entered the winner's circle.
The 3-year-old filly Gin Talking, another by Allen's Prospect, won the $95,000 Oaks in her first start for the trainer Robin Graham. The filly's Maryland owners, Lou Rehak, Bob Orndorff, and Willie White, transferred her to Graham one month ago from the barn of Hamilton A. Smith.
"This filly tends to be a little nervous," Rehak said. "Robin is a very patient trainer. She takes care of all the details to make sure everything's right. There isn't anybody who works harder than Robin Graham."
Other winners were T P Louie (Allen's Prospect--Saint, by Little Current) in the $95,000 Nursery for 2-year-olds; Cynics Beware, by Caveat, out of the Riverman mare Cynicism, in the $95,000 Turf; McKendree, by Norquestor, out of the Big Burn mare Judge Supreme, in the $95,000 Sprint Handicap; Sound System (Waquoit--Hail Jenny, by Hail Emperor) in the $47,500 Starter Handicap; and Shamrock Isle, by Allen's Prospect, out of the Erins Isle mare Shamrock Show, in the $22,500 Steeple-chase Handicap.
This Maryland Million was the 15th running of the series that has spawned imitation events in 18 states. But it may be the last with purses at the current level.
Mike Pons, president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association and vice president of Maryland Million Ltd., said that series organizers will attempt next year to turn the Maryland Million into the "Maryland Two Million."
"We've gone 15 years without a pay raise," Pons said. "Some of the other events have caught up with us. It's time we got a raise."