Before the running of the 127th Preakness Stakes (gr. I) in May at Pimlico, one of the biggest questions facing the future of Maryland racing and breeding was whether a looming state budget deficit and a new governor would usher in slot machines at the state's racetracks. The excess revenue generated by the slot machines would increase purses and boost the state's breeder rewards program.
Since then, Frank Stronach's Magna Entertainment has entered into an agreement to purchase the majority share of the Maryland Jockey Club from siblings Joe and Karin De Francis. Now, questions have arisen about Stronach's commitment to Maryland racing. Stronach has proposed to raze Pimlico following the 2003 Preakness Stakes, move the 2004 Preakness to nearby Laurel Park, and bring the Preakness back to a totally new Pimlico in 2005.
The Maryland Racing Commission will have the final say on the sale of the MJC to Magna at an Oct. 28 meeting and voters of the state of Maryland will decide in November between gubernatorial candidates Republican Robert Ehrlich Jr. and Democrat lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Ehrlich is a supporter of expanded gaming at the state's racetracks while Townsend opposes slot machines as a revenue-boosting option for the horse industry.
The addition of Magna Entertainment and a new governor will have profound impacts on the future of the state's racing and breeding programs. The breeding program is linked to the health of the state's racing program, which has lacked recent growth and forced owners and breeders out of state in search of better options.
"Nobody comes to the barn looking for Maryland-breds," said Robert T. Manfuso, owner of Chanceland Farm with partner and trainer Katy Voss. "They ask for Pennsylvania-breds, Jersey-breds, New York-breds, anything but Maryland-breds. And it's not because the horses aren't good; it's because the breeders incentive programs in other states are better than those in Maryland. We're just falling behind."
In Maryland, a growing number of mares are being sent out of state and a smaller number are being shipped in to mate with Maryland stallions and for foaling and boarding.
But for one day, Maryland Million Day, on a sunny Sept. 21 at Pimlico, owners and breeders toed a line between promoting a sport/business they love and offering an honest assessment of its troubles. The day was about celebrating Maryland's accomplishments in the breeding shed and on the track.
Of the day's 10 winners on the Maryland Million card, six were foaled in Maryland and one each in Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.
"The Maryland Million is working," said Cricket Goodall, executive director of Maryland Million Ltd. "It's doing what it was designed to do: promote the breeding industry by bringing mares into the state to breed to Maryland stallions. This is the one bright spot in the industry."
And nowhere was its success more evident than Docent's two-length win in the $200,000 Maryland Million Classic. Docent, a Pennsylvania-bred sired and raised in Maryland for Delaware connections, inherited the favorite's role after Kentucky-based Duckhorn was scratched from the race by trainer Patrick Byrne following the discovery of a quarter crack. The crowd of just over 16,000 sent Docent to the post as a 3-2 favorite for the 13Z16-mile race. As Carney's Prospect set a brisk early pace, getting a half-mile in :47.12 and six furlongs in 1:11.63, Docent, under jockey Jeremy Rose, was settled into seventh in the nine-horse field. Carney's Prospect held a two-length lead until Rose and Docent launched a strong bid around the far turn, going three-wide between horses to take command of the field at the head of the stretch. Maryland-bred Hay Getoutofmyway was second, with another Maryland-bred, Concerned Minister, normally a front-runner, breaking last and rallying for third. Carney's Prospect faded to fourth. Docent completed the distance in 1:56.85. "I had to split horses at the five-sixteenths pole and he did it perfectly," said Rose. "Everything was great after that. I found out yesterday that Duckhorn was scratched and I knew if my horse fired he could win." Docent's win was the second Maryland Million victory on the day for Rose and Delaware-based trainer Tim Ritchey. The two teamed up to win the first race, the Maryland Million Starter Handicap, with Top of the News for Besthesda, Md., owner Phyllis Dixon. Rose and Ritchey won the 2001 Maryland Million Classic with Sumerset, who finished eighth in version 2002. Ritchey said Docent could start next in the Discovery Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct. He finished fourth in the 2001 Discovery. "This race was always on his schedule," said Ritchey. "After his win in West Virginia (Aug. 10 West Virginia Governor's Handicap at Mountaineer Park), we ran him on the turf at Penn National as a prep. He got a lot out of that race. Then we breezed him about 10 days and we were ready. He'll run as far as they go." Ritchey conditions Docent for Arlene Daney, whose husband Bernard Daney bred the son of Waquoit. Bernard Daney is the chairman of the Delaware Racing Commission and is prohibited from racing or betting on horses at Delaware tracks. The Daneys have strong ties to Maryland racing and breeding. Docent's sire stands at Northview Stallion Station and the Classic winner was raised at Elberton Hill Farm near Darlington, Md. The Daneys own shares in Waquoit and another Northview stallion, Partner's Hero. Docent also won his first stakes race, the Maryland Million Sweepstakes, last year on Maryland Million Day. "We're thrilled everything has turned out this way. It's exciting to win on Maryland Million Day," said Bernard Daney. He and his wife have seven runners in training, two with Ritchey and five with John Servis. The Daneys keep their two mares, including Dormir, the 20-year-old dam of Docent, at the late Marshall Jenny's Derry Meeting Farm in Pennsylvania. Dormir is carrying a full sibling to Docent. Another family with strong Maryland ties also celebrated a big win on Million Day. Howard and Sondra Bender sent out La Reine's Terms to win the $100,000 Maryland Million Turf. It took the entire nine furlongs for La Reine's Terms to reach the front, catching front-running Elberton in the last two jumps, winning by a neck. The running time was 1:49.28. The win was the fifth in a row for La Reine's Terms, who suffered a broken neck as a yearling and as a 2-year-old walked with his head cocked to one side with one ear flopped over. "The insurance company was ready to pay the claim if we put him down. There was just something about him that didn't want to give up. He was a fighter then and he's a fighter now," said trainer Lawrence Murray after winning his first Maryland Million race. La Reine's Terms entered last year's Maryland Million Turf as the favorite but was eliminated in the first turn when a rival went down with a broken leg. The son of Private Terms finished seventh. "He's a tough old guy and has made it through a lot. It's always great to win on Maryland Million Day," said Sondra Bender.