Whether you are a native Marylander or a transplant, unless you are an octogenarian can you truly appreciate the rich history that thoroughbred horse racing has in the Free State.
More than a half-century before Mayflower moving vans hauled the Baltimore Colts off to Indianapolis and long before the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore to become the Orioles, the “Sport of Kings” had already compiled a long list of great thoroughbred racing moments in Maryland.
It’s doubtful that in my 45+ years of actively being a fan, that I can accurately whittle down these great moments to a mere sixteen (16). But for the sake of celebrating WNST’s 16 years of existence, I’ve compromised and referenced only moments in my lifetime with one obvious exception.
16. Deputed Testamony (1983) —
Bred in Maryland on Bonita Farm in Harford County by his trainer Bill Boniface, Jr. and ridden by Maryland native Donnie Miller, Jr. this 3-year-old son of Traffic Cop splashed home to win by 2¾ lengths. He remains the most recent of eight Maryland breds to have won the Preakness Stakes. One year later at Pimlico, he won the City of Baltimore Handicap in track record time for a 1 1/16 mile event in 1:40 4/5, which still stands today.
LOUISVILLE — After the horses cross the finish line every year at the Kentucky Derby, there are inevitably two instinctual reactions. (Unless you attend the race at Churchill Downs, because then there’s actually three-the first being to say “wait, which horse was that?”)
Immediately after NBC’s Larry Collmus identifies the victor (and how fantastic was Collmus’ “ORRRRRRBBBBBBB” exclamation as the #16 horse made his move down the stretch Saturday?), both hardcore and casual racing fans alike try to identify whether or not they won any money on the race and then start to wonder “could this be the one?”
They’re of course wondering that in terms of whether or not the horse is capable of winning the sport’s elusive Triple Crown, a feat not accomplished since 1978 (Affirmed) and so desperately desired to be seen for a first time by a generation of fans. Perhaps making the wait more excruciating has been the heartbreak that has come with so many close calls during the 35 year span. The wrenching has just finally begun to wear off from last year’s near miss, as the Doug O’Neill trained I’ll Have Another was scratched just 24 hours ahead of his date with destiny in the Belmont Stakes after suffering a torn tendon.
Last year’s Belmont Stakes had been a hope to provide joy to millions but instead appeared more like a memorial service for an older friend. There was the attempt at celebration of a horse’s career but the disappointment of the end of the run was much more prevalent. The horse and trainer had skyrocketed to superstardom in the weeks between their unexpected victory at Churchill Downs and that difficult Friday press conference near the barns in New York.
But with another Derby champion comes another hope to see history.
The Maryland Jockey Club and everyone involved with Pimlico was served well by owner J. Paul Reddam’s decision to partner with O’Neill in sending I’ll Have Another to Baltimore very quickly after the Derby last year. (O’Neill will be doing the same thing this year with Goldencents, who finished a disappointing 17th in the Derby.) O’Neill became the honorary mayor of Charm City, taking in practice with the Baltimore Ravens, throwing out the first pitch with the Baltimore Orioles and showing up on as many media outlets as the MJC could dream possible. The stardom was in place before the horse ever claimed the Black-Eyed Susans.
That’s of course because the advantage we have in Baltimore is knowing that as long as nothing terrible happens with the Derby winner, we’ll always have a shot a Triple Crown alive and well on the third Saturday of May. There have been years where we’ve been smart enough to know the chance was a longshot (most notably when Mine That Bird won the Derby at 50-1 odds and had to face off against the horse’s own jockey Calvin Borel and Kentucky Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra in 2009), but there’s always the possibility.
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With just a few more live racing days remaining in Maryland for 2012, it’s time to recall the Top Ten most exciting thoroughbred chase scenes that took place at a Maryland track.
In 2012 there were over 1,300 races contested at the three (3) Maryland thoroughbred tracks (Laurel Park, Pimlico and Timonium). Of course, the biggest was the 137th Preakness Stakes that saw Derby winner I’ll Have Another chase down Bodemeister in the final yards to capture the second jewel of racings’ Triple Crown.
To the casual horse racing fan, they may only witness races that are broadcast on network television. But 365 days a year somewhere in North America, a track is conducting races. Whether it be a graded stakes or a $5,000 Claiming race, they all hold the possibility of generating great excitement along with a fantastic finish.
Here are my Top 10 Maryland races of 2012. Do you have one that didn’t make the cut?
10. Black-Eyed Susan – May 18th– Race 10 @ Pimlico
In Lingerie looked tight as a drum while impressively pulling away from the field.
9. 107-1 Winner – March 21st – Race 9 @ Laurel Park
A 1 for 18 lifetime low-level claimer Wire Funds proves that running on turf versus dirt can be like night and day. This one was first time on grass (for $10,500 tag) while stepping up from the $5k claiming ranks on dirt, failing to have hit the board in his previous 5 outings. After winning this one, he came back to win his next 3 on the lawn against $12.5k Claimers, $25k Claimers and $43k Allowance company.
8. Mr. Diz Stakes – April 7th– Race 10 @ Pimlico
Reigning MD Horse of the Year Ben’s Cat rallies to take 3rd consecutive Mr. Diz Stakes.
7. Near Triple Dead Heat – March 16th – Race 7 @ Laurel Park
After racing 7 furlongs, no measurement could separate Milwaukee Chief and Artic Raven, while Let Me Be Frank settled for SHOW money a mere whisker behind those two.
6. Ladys Legend for the Cure – May 18th– Race 4 @ Pimlico
Class Rules may have won easily but it was 59-year-old Jennifer (Rowland) Small in who was in the irons, and the other retired female jockeys who made the 3rd annual People’s Pink Party Day a memorable $40k Allowance NW1X race.
5. Rapid Redux notches #22 – January 4th – Race 6 @ Laurel Park
This $5,000 Starter Allowance would be the 6-year-old geldings final race. Retired with a record 22 race win streak intact, he won a total of 28 races from 42 career starts.
4. Frank J. DeFrancis Dash – October 27th – Race 9 @ Laurel Park
Action Andy rallies in deep stretch to catch Il Vilano at the wire. What really hurts is that I had Il Vilano. How many times is the cameraman wrong when showing the winner on the gallop out in a tight photo?!
3. Pimlico Special – May 18th– Race 12 @ Pimlico
Alternation puts in a game performance as he gets the better end of the head bob versus Nehro. Watch the slow motion replay at the wire. Nero actually catches and gets ahead of Alternation 5 feet before the wire. Once again, guess who had Nehro at 6-1?!
The next day I had Steve Asmussen (Nehro’s trainer) crying on my shoulder saying, “How in the hell did he not win that race?!”
2. Double Dead Heat – October 8th – Race 7 @ Laurel Park
Truly a horse racing rarity, as Rockaby Bay and Masterel hit the wire simultaneously for the WIN while just a neck behind Elkhorn Creek and Colonel Bill could not be separated for the SHOW purse, in this $25k Optional Claiming event.