Cuba and Pedro Cotto Jr. cruise to victory in the Jim McKay Maryland Million Classic.

Cuba and Pedro Cotto Jr. cruise to victory in the Jim McKay Maryland Million Classic.

Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club

Maryland Million Classic: Cuba All Alone

An $18,000 claim by trainer Bobby Dibona, he rolls to a four-length win.

Cuba, ridden by Pedro Cotto Jr., had an easy time of it against four overmatched rivals as he powered to a four-length victory in the $279,000 Jim McKay Maryland Million Classic at Laurel Park Oct. 4.

The Maryland Million features 12 races for runners sired by Maryland-based stallions with combined purses totaling $1.68 million. The 23rd annual event drew a crowd of 24,442, the fifth largest in the history of the event, on a picture perfect fall afternoon.

McKay, a Hall of Fame TV broadcaster, is credited with originally proposing the Maryland Million concept and remained the chairman of the board until his death on June 7. Earlier on the card a special tribute was paid to McKay in the winners’ circle, which included a package from HRTV’s “McKay’s Maryland,” a 30-minute retrospective on McKay’s legendary career.

“I think Dad would have been a little overwhelmed,” said Mary McManus Guba, McKay’s daughter. “He was a modest man but he would have been thrilled beyond words.”

Claimed this winter at Gulfstream Park for just $18,000, the 7-year-old Cuba, a son of Not For Love, has been transformed in the care of trainer Bobby Dibona into a graded stakes performer. Before this start he finished fifth in the Iselin (gr. III) at Monmouth Park and third in the $500,000 Mass Cap at Suffolk Downs two weeks ago. He has won six of 10 since changing hands with nine in-the-money finishes.

“He has never run a bad race since I claimed him,” said Dibona. “It is tough not to have confidence. When this race came up on the light side I thought we had to take a shot. He has run well on short rest so it worked out beautiful. He is the coolest horse. He is great to be around; he does everything push button like a champ. Don’t you think he didn’t know for one minute what was going on today.”

Cotto, Cuba’s regular rider, sat chilly on his mount, racing in third as Diamond David and Blue’s Baby Boy raced in first and second respectively through the opening mile of the 1 3/16-mile test. Cotto signaled for Cuba ($4.40) to go as they rounded the far turn and was content to remain a passenger as they galloped by the leaders at the top of the lane. They drew away down the stretch while ridden out. Cuba’s winning time was 1:57.78.

Cotto said, “I took him back a little early on. It played right for us. We waited, then when I asked him he went. He did a real good job. I’m supposed to ride at The Meadowlands tonight but I think I’m going to call off.”

Diamond David headed defending champion Evil Storm for second. Betting favorite Five Steps was fourth and Blue’s Baby Boy tired to last. Diamond David has finished second and third in previous runnings of the Classic.

Elsewhere on the card:

Maryland Million Turf: Last year they finished 1-1/2 lengths apart in the Maryland Million Turf. A year later the margin was even closer as Broadway Producer beat Dr. Rico by a neck in the $200,000 event.

Last year Broadway Producer finished third, Dr Rico finished second and Forty Crowns won the race in track record time. With Forty Crowns absent, these two separated themselves from the others and raced to the wire in tandem to the delight of the Maryland Million crowd.

Broadway Producer ($4.20) won the race in 1:49.99, far off the record 1:46.03. Knight In Armour finished third.

John Terranova trains the winner at Belmont Park. He had crossed-entered the son of Not for Love in the Maryland Million Sprint, but opted for this race when the turf came up firm, his horse’s preferred surface. Horacio Karamanos rode the winner. 

Sovereign Stable and Gatsas Stables owns Broadway Producer. The 5-year-old was bred in Maryland by Fast Kitty Farms.

Maryland Million Ladies: Robert & Linda Newton’s Miss Lombardi found a seam between nine rivals, dove through the hole and galloped to victory in the $200,000 turf event.

Jeremy Rose guided the 6-year-old daughter of Unbridled Jet to victory in 1:49.52 over the firm turf. Debbie Sue, the 2006 winner, also came out of the pack to take a share of the purse, three-quarters of a length behind the winner. Longshot Beau’s Tip, who led from the start, held on to finish third.

Miss Lombardi ($9.60) is rained by Graham Motion at the Fair Hill training center. She was bred by her owners in Maryland. They own her dam, Chemise.

Defending champion Maddy’s Heart finished sixth.

Maryland Million Distaff: A crowd of better than 60 owners, friends and fans greeted Country Life Farm’s Spectacular Malibu in the winners’ circle after she earned her second Maryland Million day victory, this time in $150,000 race.

The 4-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon  won the 2006 Maryland Million Lassie as a 2-year-old. She did not race last year. This year, under trainer Mike Trombetta, Spectacular Malibu has won three of 10 starts and finished second in both the Geisha at Pimlico and the Windward at Presque Isle Downs.

Julian Pimentel rode the gray or roan filly over the seven furlong distance in 1:23.56. She finished 2 1/2 lengths the better of front runner All Giving. Jet Away Jane was third.

Spectacular Malibu was the last horse bred by the late Charlie Hadry, a leading horseman in Maryland for many years.

Maryland Million Sprint: E. Allen Murray, Jr.’s Celtic Innis snapped a two-year losing streak with a stirring victory in the $150,000 event.

Craig Gibbs rode the 6-year-old gelded son of Yarrow Brae to a narrow win over Lemons of Love in 1:10.81 for the six-furlong distance. They won by a neck. Post time favorite and defending champion Grand Champion bounced against the winner repeatedly at the top of the stretch but he could finish no closer than third. Jazz Seeker was fourth.

Celtic Innis ($13) had not won a race since September 2006 but had finished in the money in seven of his previous 12 races. Today’s win was his fifth career stakes victory and pushed his career earnings over $500,000.

He was bred by his owner.

Maryland Million Oaks: William R. Harris’ Sweet Goodbye won the biggest race of her brief career when she sped to victory in the $150,000 race for 3-year-old fillies.

Now four for five, with all four victories coming under jockey J.D. Acosta for trainer Chris Grove, the daughter of 1996 Preakness winner Louis Quatorze charged to the lead a furlong from the start and then continued on unopposed, completing the one mile distance in 1:38.47 over the fast main track.

She won by three lengths and paid $4.20.

Saxet Heights took second, while Love For Not was able to out-finish Another Jewel to finish third.

Maryland Million Lassie: Miss Charm City, owned by the estate of James Glenn, won one for the home team with a gate-to-wire victory in the $150,000 test for 2-year-old fillies.

Bred in Maryland by her late owner and trained by Carlos Garcia at Laurel Park, Miss Charm City sped to the lead in the seven-furlong test and stayed on cruise control for jockey Horacio Karamanos until she crossed under the finish line in 1:24.81, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Fools In Love. Blind Date finished third.

Miss Charm City ($10.40) remains undefeated with the victory. She won her maiden race at Laurel in August and returned to capture the Gin Talking Stakes less than a month later. The filly is a daughter of Bowman’s Band.

This was the second win on the afternoon for Karamanos, who took the Turf with Broadway Producer.

Maryland Million Nursery: R Legacy Racing Inc. & Lonnie Stokes' Juke Joint remained undefeated after trouncing fellow 2-year-olds in the $150,000 event.

The son of Maryland sire Jazz Club, Juke Joint was born in Pennsylvania. He had won his first two starts at Presque Isle Downs, including the Send More Money Stakes.

Ridden in all three of his races by Dale Beckner, Juke Joint broke a step slow in the seven-furlong test, ran by the pacesetter without urging and continued on to another impressive score, this time by 4 1/4 lengths over three others who were left to battle it out for minor shares - Cool Punch (2nd), Mr. Keeper (3rd) and In The Juice (4th).

Beckner, who recently won the riding title at Presque Isle, will join the Maryland colony beginning next week.

Juke Joint paid $4.20. He was bred in Pennsylvania by David DiPietro.

Maryland Million Turf Sprint: Arnold and Adam Smolen’s Kosmo’s Buddy took the measure of odds-on favorite Natural Seven to win the $100,000 race. Even more impressive, she was beating colts and geldings.

The daughter of Outflanker caught up with front running Natural Seven in mid-stretch and refused to give up the fight until she had pushed to the fore to win by a nose. Lycurgus was three-quarters of a length back in third.

Eric Camacho rode Kosmo’s Buddy for trainer Tim Salzman. A winner of five races in seventeen starts including the Crank It Up Stakes at Monmouth Park, she paid $14.

The 3-year-old has been first or second in all six of her turf races.

Kosmo’s Buddy was bred by her owners in Maryland.