In Maryland Saturday, Laurel Park will play host to the 35th annual Jim McKay Maryland Million Day while New York’s Belmont Park will present Empire Showcase Day, as each state pays tribute to its Thoroughbred breeding programs.
So, let’s consider: What do California Chrome, Funny Cide, and Native Dancer have in common?
What they share is the fact that for those tethered to the Thoroughbred race horse, before these champions became national equine treasures, each put their respective state’s breeding programs on the proverbial map.
California Chrome was a Cal-bred sensation, of course, who had his 2014 Triple Crown bid crushed in that year’s “Test of the Champion” at Belmont Park. But he accomplished so much more than “only” his Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories.
He forever eradicated the perception that the terms “Cal-bred” and “ill-bred” could be used interchangeably.
“Chrome and his “Chromies” gave his program the kind of respectability that’s earned and a feel good racing story until one of his owners blew it all up in the aftermath of a failed Belmont bid.
Another Cal-bred put Golden State-bred horses on the map in a big way long before. Swaps, who won the 1955 Kentucky Derby and a celebrated match race with Nashua, gave the Cal-bred program propriety for the first time since the program was conceived in 1937.
Actually, it was Kentucky that played a role in the life of the celebrated Maryland-bred Native Dancer. The Gray Ghost was foaled in the bluegrass but is regarded as Maryland-bred since he was raised at Sagamore Farm in Glyndon, MD, then owned by legendary Thoroughbred patron Alfred G. Vanderbilt.
It is said timing is everything and Native Dancer was in the right place at the right time, becoming racing’s first equine television star in the early ’50s. His three-year-old campaign was televised by CBS after having gone 9-for-9 as a juvenile en route to a championship.
Native Dancer went on to win 21 of 22 lifetime starts, of course, his only defeat courtesy of a tough trip and poorly judged ride, losing narrowly to Dark Star in the 1953 Kentucky Derby when his desperate late charge fell short by a head.
Lest we not forget that Native Dancer begat Raise A Native, who begat Mr. Prospector, and also produced Natalma, mother of Northern Dancer. And Northern Dancer begat Nijinsky and Lyphard and Sadler’s Wells and… well, you get the idea.
In the modern era, Funny Cide, and distant stablemate Tiz the Law, helped relaunch the New York-bred program bigly, a long way from the early days when Dr. Dominic Deluke’s Assunta Louis Farm won the inaugural Empire Stakes for two-year-olds in 1976.
Back in the day only Fio Rito made national headlines with his 10-1 upset in the 1981 Whitney and, in the way-back zone, it was a New York-bred filly, Ruthless, who won the inaugural Belmont Stakes at Jerome Park in 1867.
Tomorrow is a big-event day in their respective states and while these big days may not be celebrated with national headlines, they will be uppermost in the minds of simulcast players who will find the large fields and competitive races attractive betting fare.
But the best part of these programs today is the green space state breeding nurseries protect, the jobs they create, while ensuring that a traditional way of American life, living off the land, remains vital.
BELMONT PARK EMPIRE SHOWCASE
Mohawk — Race 8
PROJECTED WINNER: Somelikeithotbrown (9-5)
VALUE BET: Cross Border (5-2) to win at early odds or greater
EXOTICA: Exacta box top two. Trifecta box top two with Therapist (5-1). Trifecta box top two with Rinaldi (3-1).
PROJECTED WINNER: Prairie Fire (8-1)
VALUE BET: Prairie Fire to win at 6-1 or greater
EXOTICA: Exacta key-box Prairie Fire with newly Minted (5-2), Officer Hutchy (6-1) and Collegeville Girl (15-1). Dime Super Key Prairie Fire first and second with exacta horses, using them plus Spin A Yarn (8-1) and Timely Tradition (5-1) third and fourth.
PROJECTED WINNER: Mr. Buff (5-2)
VALUE BET: Mr. Buff to win at 2-1 or greater
EXOTICA: Exacta and Trifecta box Mr. Buff, Funny Guy (2-1) and Evaluator (10-1)
PROJECTED WINNER: Advanced Strategy (5-2)
VALUE BET: Advanced Strategy at 2-1 or greater
EXOTICA: Exacta box Advanced Strategy with Three Outlaws (8-1). Dime Super Key Advanced Strategy on top with Three Outlaws, Uncle George (4-1), Big Wonder (8-1), Jo’s Bold Cat (10-1), and Impazible Odds (12-1)
LAUREL PARK MARYLAND MILLION
Maryland Million Turf Race 9
PROJECTED WINNER: Nick Papagiorgio (7-2)
VALUE BET: Nick Papagiorgio to win at 3-1 or greater
EXOTICA: Exacta key-box Nick Papagiogio with Somekindofmagician (5-1) and Cannon’s Roar (9-2) Dime Super Key-Wheel Nick Papagiorgio first and second with Somekindofmagician and Cannon’s Roar first and second with each other plus Mr. d’Angelo (9-2) and [AE] Hanalei’s Houdini (6-1) third and fourth. If no AE, make trifecta key-wheel
Maryland Million Sprint
PROJECTED WINNER: [AE] Eastern Bay (9-5), if not in, Lewisfield (7-2)
VALUE BET: If no Eastern Bay at 8-5 or greater to win, take Lewisfield to win to 3-1 or greater
EXOTICA: Exacta box Eastern Bay, Lewisfield and Whereshetoldmetogo (5-2). Dime Super Wheel all exacta horses with each other first, second and third, adding Taco Supream (4-1), Let’s Play Nine (5-1) and Onemoregreatime (3-1) third and fourth.
Maryland Million Classic
PROJECTED WINNER: Harpers First Ride (8-5)
VALUE: Cordmaker (4-1) to win at 4-1 or greater
EXOTICA: Exacta box Harpers First Ride, Cordmaker and Top Line Growth (2-1). Trifecta wheel all three first, second and third, adding Prendimi (15-1) second and third.
Maryland Million Turf Starter Handicap
PROJECTED WINNER: Air Token (15-1)
VALUE BET: Air Token to win at 12-1 or greater
EXOTICA: Exacta key-box Air Token first and second with Earned It (6-1) and Belfour (3-1) and Ludicrous Mode (30-1). Dime Super Key Wheel Air Token first and second with Earned It, Belfour and Ludicrous Mode with each other, adding Rule Yourself (6-1) second, third and fourth.
All Suggested Wagers are at track minimum odds per pool; the rest is on you