Eighttofasttocatch, Ben's Cat highlight 27th annual Maryland Million
The 27th Jim McKay Maryland Million, a festive homecoming for Marylanders, attracted 106 entrants to the 11-race program which will be presented Saturday at Laurel Park. First post for the $1.05 million day is 12:35 p.m. (EDT).
"He's one of my favorite horses," said Sheldon Russell, who has ridden the chestnut 16 times and will be aboard Saturday. "I was disappointed the last time we ran him on the grass. I dropped the whip or it would have been better outcome. He keeps improving and loves the big days."
Keefe also cross-entered his star in the $100,000 Maryland Million Turf as a backup plan.
"It is 99.99 percent we're going in the Classic," Keefe added. "I wanted options because I didn't know how this race would come up."
Not Abroad finished second to Regal Solo in 2010 as a three-year-old before last year's third-place finish. The son of Not for Love comes into the Classic in fine form with four top three finishes from his five races this year. Nick Petro rides the colt for his brother Mike.
After his runner-up effort in the Classic a year ago, Cactus Charlie has finished in the money in three of five races, but the son of Not for Love has not visited the winner's circle. Shannon Uske is the regular rider for trainer John Tammaro IV.
Regal Warrior was third in the 2010 Classic while in the Mike Trombetta barn then finished fifth a year ago while being conditioned by Mitch Friedman. The son of Louis Quatorze was claimed by Rick Dutrow in February but has run just once, recording a fifth-place finish behind Eighttofasttocatch in the Harrison E. Johnson in mid-March. Julian Pimentel has the riding assignment for Saturday's Classic.
In the Juice has run sixth, fourth and fifth in the last three editions of the Classic. This year, the Jerry Robb-conditioned Rock Slide six-year-old is winless in five starts and will have Wesley Ho in the irons.
The only newcomer to the Classic is Tujoes, who comes into the race off two straight victories, including a first stakes win in the Roanoke Stakes at Parx Racing on September 8. Angel Arroyo will ride the son of Oratory for trainer Steve Klesaris, who also entered his charge in the $100,000 Maryland Million Sprint.
"Maybe Ben won't run his race this time," Capuano hypothesized. "(Heros Reward) is fresh and sound. He shows up every time and you can't ask for any more than that."
Capuano and Leatherbury are tied atop the Maryland Million trainer standings with nine winners.
The field also features Steady Warrior, who finished just a length behind Ben's Cat in last year's Turf Sprint and a neck behind in the Mister Diz. The Cherokee's Boy four-year-old gelding earned his last win in 2010 when capturing the Tri-State Futurity two races following a 7 1/4-length romp in the Maryland Million Nursery.
Stakes comprise the entire Saturday card, with the $100,000 Maryland Million Lassie opening the program. Seven two-year-old fillies are entered, including Mystic Love, an impressive winner in her debut last month for trainer Frannie Campitelli. The juvenile boys will get their turn in the spotlight later on the card when a full field of 14 head to the gate for the $100,000 Maryland Million Nursery.
"He's a tough guy," Dilodovico noted. "He's quite cantankerous, too. I don't know if he's green or what, but he'll do something silly, like chuck a rider in the morning. He'll act like he's two sometimes. He's crashed into cars. We thought he was finished but he came back off a year layoff (February 2011 to February 2012) . This horse is remarkable to come back from all that stuff to be competitive again but he loves to race and win. We want to keep him going but I wish this race was two turns."
Carulli lists Let Me Be Frank at 10-1 in the one-turn, one-mile test.
The Maryland Million was introduced in 1986 as a program of races restricted to the offspring of Maryland-based stallions, and has been duplicated by more than 20 other states. Maryland-sired Thoroughbreds are nominated before they become two-year-olds and remain eligible for life to run in the Maryland Million races. After twenty-six runnings, 220 stallions have been represented in Maryland Million races.
Hall of Fame broadcaster Jim McKay originally proposed the concept and remained chairman of the board until his death four years ago. Attendance figures have topped 20,000 for the event on 22 occasions.
The first 4,000 full-paid admissions on Saturday, as well as Maryland-licensed owners and trainers, will each receive a free Maryland Million Sport Cap. On-track entertainment between races will include two pony races, Goshen Foxhounds, Thoroughbred Placement Resources and Special Olympics Maryland. Party at the Park, located trackside in Paddock Park, will feature beer, wine, cornhole, live music between races and all you can eat wings from 12-5 p.m.
Hall of Fame riders Steve Cauthen and Jean Cruguet will be signing autographs outside the Horse Wizard Room from 1-3 p.m.
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