All this at lovely Laurel Park.
Saturday October 1 marked Laurel Park’s biggest day of racing: Maryland Million Day. It was Breeders’ Cup, Maryland edition.
It all started with the $100,000 Maryland Million Oaks run at a mile and won by Brushed By Love. It ended with the $150,000 Maryland Million Classic won by the odds-on favorite Eighttofasttocatch.
“This was our ‘A’ race,” said trainer Tim Keefe. “He’s been training like a good horse. We’ve worked hard on getting him to track the speed and today that turned out perfect. The five post didn’t hurt us either. He really finished down the lane. This horse loves Laurel Park. The older he gets the better he’s become.”
I wasn’t there, but if Preakness Day at nearby Pimlico is the rowdiest, and technically biggest day of Maryland racing, Maryland Million Day is the most refined. It reminds me of a Thursday at Saratoga. My only experience came five years ago while I was shadowing a special Maryland horseman named Phil Schoenthal. He won that day, a starter handicap with a horse named Busy Prospect, ridden by the then-eighteen-year-old Rosie Napravnik.
It’s a special day for Maryland racing, Maryland trainers, and Maryland-bred horses. Winning on that day made Schoenthal feel like a king, and he carted me around as if I were one of his eccentric owners (who else would be wearing torn corduroys and a black t-shirt and still be allowed into the VIP section for a meal?).
I was working on an as-of-yet unpublished narrative about being a young trainer’s apprentice, illustrating the slog that trainers with strings that couldn’t field a baseball team undergo as they dream of that elusive BIG HORSE.
Schoenthal didn’t have a horse this past Saturday, but he’s as good as any horseman and he’s certainly one of the best at placing his horses in spots to earn his owners some money.
Up north the likely 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace (also a town in, you guessed it, Maryland) smashed up on Grade 1-company in Beldame. But down in Maryland trainers like Rodney Jenkins, King Leatherbury, Mike Trombetta, Chris Grove, Benny Feliciano, Scott Lake, Gary Capuano, Mark Shuman, and Robby Bailes went to work. It may not have been super by NYRA’s standards, but it was pretty darn good.
There were no bombs at Laurel Park, but two $12.80 winners, a $15 winner. It was a day to feast on chalk if you were weaslely enough. Sounds like New York’s Super Saturday, which proved to be struck by some degree of long shot-Kryptonite.
As many people were quick to point out, the field sizes in New York were as big as Dobby the House Elf, but that’s weather and the ever-rich Breeders’ Cup just four weeks away.
Story lines, big characters, and big horses draw me to racing so it was especially intriguing to hear Mike Repole immediately point his Kelso winner Uncle Mo to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“I love the Classic,” Repole said. “In my opinion, if you run Uncle Mo in the Sprint, he’s the favorite. If you run Uncle Mo in the Dirt Mile, he’s the favorite. If you run him in the Classic, he’s probably going to be the favorite. I want to win the Classic. If Mo was in the Mile and won, and Stay Thirsty was in the Classic and finished third, it would be a decision I would regret for the rest of my life. Why not take two shots at a race everybody wants to win?”
Now, I doubt he’ll be the favorite—Havre de Grace will be—but he is, without question, a horse back from the dark side of the moon. He won his first race in half a year. You have to tip your fedora to Uncle Mo and to Todd Pletcher’s staff for getting this horse back into shape. He’s a Grade 1-horse, a BIG HORSE, that anyone would want, especially those guys who put on a nice show down in Maryland.
Lousiville Book Signing
I'll be signing books at Carmichael's Bookstore in Louisville, KY on Monday October 10 at 7 p.m. I'll have a friend with me. You might have heard of him: Calvin Borel. He'll be signing with me so come on down if you're in town.
Brendan O'Meara is the author of "Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year." Buy it here.