The Preakness will forever be the most famous Thoroughbred race in Maryland, but if you’re looking to find Maryland’s Day at the Races you’d be wise to wait until autumn. The Maryland Million – with its crowded outdoor spaces, crisp air, free hats, overflowing hospitality tents and competitive (if humbler) horses – stands up as the signature day for an industry that dates to the state’s earliest days.
Run for the 35th time Saturday, Oct. 24 at Laurel Park, the Jim McKay Maryland Million Day will look different this year – and even share its month with the Preakness – thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, but will happen and that’s the important thing. Maryland Million 2020 was never really that close to being canceled, but there were rumors, and organizers worked overtime to secure funding for purses and other necessary expenses. The result is a scaled-down version, without general admission spectators, those tents at the top of the stretch, the face-painters, the music and all the rest.
But the races go on. There will be hats, but they will be limited and probably part of a Maryland Horse Foundation fundraiser. Bid early and often. The winner’s circle will be decorated in fall colors. The trophies will be Waterford Crystal. The racing will be competitive.
If you’re not there as an owner, trainer or essential employee, make sure you’re watching at home via TVG or some other racing platform.
No, it’s not the same, but it’s here.
“The good thing about Maryland Million is people like to go,” said Cricket Goodall, executive director of the Maryland Million. “People who don’t go to the races go to Maryland Million.”
The goal back in the 1980s didn’t hinge on getting people to show up. It was more about horses. McKay, the television journalist known for hosting Wide World of Sports for nearly 30 years as well as covering the Olympics, racing and other sports, hatched the idea after watching the success of the Breeders’ Cup. “Why wouldn’t the concept work in Maryland?” was the gist of McKay’s question. He and his wife Margaret bred and raced Thoroughbreds. They knew Maryland horse people. It just made sense. Little did McKay know he’d spawn more than 20 imitators – in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Florida, California and so on.
The Baltimore County resident helped sell sponsorships to Budweiser, USF&G, First National Bank of Maryland and so on. ESPN broadcast the races, for years. You can find the 1986 show on YouTube, all two hours of it, complete with an opening recorded by McKay that includes the phrase “. . . but little Maryland, oh my.” He introduced himself as the organization’s president, leaned on a white board fence with a placid chestnut horse in the background, and explained how it worked. The theme was cooperation, among breeders, stallion owners, racehorse owners, trainers, the state, racetracks, sponsors, everyone involved. That’s how Maryland Million came to be, he said.
And how it’s still here.
In the early days, there were 180 stallions in Maryland. Each paid a fee to be part of the program. Now, the stallion roster numbers about 30 (though it has stabilized) and the annual foal crop is in the hundreds instead of the thousands. Stallion owners still pay an annual fee (an advertised stud fee, or $500 minimum) to the Maryland Million, but the nomination fee for foals was waived in 2009 to maximize participation.
“We were getting about 60 percent of the foals nominated and we wanted to make sure all the foals were eligible,” said Goodall. “That’s important, and as long as the stallion is nominated all the foals are eligible. It was well worth it.”
Over time, revenue from nomination fees and corporate sponsorship decreased and Maryland Million gained support from two state sources (both derived from the industry) – the Special Fund, a pool of money from uncashed mutuel tickets; and the Bond Fund, a small percentage of wagering takeout originally created to support capital improvements at racetracks but converted by the Racing Act of 2004 to contribute to the Maryland Million. Initially more than $1 million, the two sources contribute $700,000 to $800,000 to the program and combine with other revenue from nominators, sponsors, events, wagering handle on Maryland Million races, etc. to fund the program. Though it supports many facets of the state’s racing industry, slots revenue does not go directly to the Maryland Million.
When racing shut down for more than two months, much of that funding came into question.
“We weren’t sure because of Covid what those grants were going to look like,” said Goodall. “There were no uncashed mutuel tickets during that time and no handle to contribute to the other fund. It was never in danger of not happening. It was, ‘Can we get a million dollars in purses?’ We could let the ancillary costs be what they are and figure that out later.”
Funding is in place to cover the purses. Separate from any racing industry plans, uncertainty of state and local Covid regulations made hospitality tents and attendance by large groups impractical at best and ultimately not worth the time, effort and expense. Goodall said some sponsors have stayed on, but their benefits will be virtual. The result will be a Maryland Million Day without its perks – and 20,000 attendees – but with its races.
“Both of those grants are based on industry revenue and if the industry was shut down for two months it affected both of those revenue streams,” Goodall said. “That was the unknown. I have faith that if we had needed additional funding to make the day, to cover the purses, the horsemen, the track and the industry would have helped find it. We could have run fewer Maryland Million races that day to make it all work, but if we had to add hospitality and things too, that would have been hard to do.”
The reality of 2020 has forced many to look to the future – no matter the industry – and racing is no different. Goodall hopes 2021 looks like 2019, with tents, a big crowd and all the enthusiasm the event can bring. She also plans to keep the program true to McKay’s aims, a place for horses not just foaled in the state but those by Maryland sires.
“Stallions are the bedrock, and arguably the most important part, of a state’s breeding industry,” Goodall said. “More commerce is created with mares coming to be bred, than foaled, and so it is really important to promote and reward that segment of the industry.
To help maximize field size, Maryland-bred horses may run if there are fewer than eight Maryland-sired horses entered in a given race. That resulted in wins by Bonus Points (2018 Classic) and a handful of others, but the home team continues to hold its own.
“I don’t think you have it Maryland-sired to the detriment to the program, but I also think you have to give them the best opportunity,” said Goodall. “We are getting more Maryland-sired horses again. The low was 2012 and it’s coming back now with some of the new stallions farms have added.”
Like all things, money matters however. The Maryland Million cards its day of races, pays owners’ bonuses to Maryland-sired maiden winners all year, pays stallion nominator awards and otherwise manages the program. But by 1986 standards, the Maryland Million ought to be the Maryland $2.3 Million. Goodall knows that, would love to see a purse increase, but also knows the landscape.
“The Maryland-bred Fund doesn’t have enough money to do all we want to do now, so that wouldn’t necessarily fix everything,” she said of changing to a Maryland-bred program. “The way it is now, everybody contributes something – horsemen, stallion guys, those two grants tied to handle, the track helps pay hospitality costs – and it works. We’re proud of the day and what it’s become.”
Goodall, who has been to every Maryland Million, will be at this one and hopes to see you and everyone else at the 2021 version.
“There’s a real loyalty to it,” she said. “In the beginning it was a sense of Jim McKay Day and as you built up the day, they came year after year. My hairdresser would come to the races once a year, Maryland Million Day. She’d bring her friends. They wore hats, entered the hat contest. You get people like that. It’s amazing how many times I’ll be at an event the rest of the year and people tell me, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve been to every one.’
“To see that at a track these days is unusual. They’ve got to want to go there and you’ve got to give them a reason. For whatever reason, Maryland Million is that day.”
A Million Memories: Now in its 35th year, Maryland’s Day at the Races still delivers
By Joe and Sean Clancy
In a global health crisis, you improvise. There is no long, winding Maryland Million profile of a breeder, an owner, a trainer, a founder in this magazine. Instead, we tap the collective minds of some of the Maryland-sired racing program’s leaders. What comes to mind when you hear Maryland Million memory? What’s your favorite race? What does the day mean to you?
“Brilliant Patriot, the defending champion…Oliver’s Twist has claimed the lead…Frugal Doc is right there…it looks like a classic finish in the Classic…Frugal Doc…the oldtimer might pull it off…what a finish…the Classic lives up to its name.”
“Eighttofasttocatch has been in front now for eight furlongs, one more furlong to go for Eighttofasttocatch, yes, he’s too good, yes, he’s too fast…”
“Ben’s Cat is set down and here’s Ben’s Cat carrying 128 pounds racing down the stretch here at Laurel Park to the second wire in the sprint…a clash of millionaires down to the line…oh, what a cool cat he is…they can’t stop this cat.”
No one has had a better view of the Maryland Million than Dave Rodman. Maryland Jockey Club’s announcer has called every edition since 1991. He came along the year Hall of Famer Safely Kept won her third Distaff, Countus In won her third Ladies and Timely Warning won his second Classic. Those icons are long since retired and the venerable voice of Maryland racing is still going strong.
“It’s not really more challenging, it’s just a lot of fun. The preparation comes in keeping the timeline of events and presentations in order, it’s more compact than the Preakness,” Rodman said. “At Laurel, I’m closer to the crowd. At Pimlico, I’m higher up and removed from the actual apron. At Laurel, I can open the window and hear the crowd, see the Maryland Million village, I feel like I’m in the crowd. It’s nice to see people come out.” Rodman can pick out old friends in that crowd.
“It’s like watching individual teams and their cheerleaders for their teams, I can glance through the crowd and see them,” Rodman said. “ ‘There are the Ponses of Country Life…there’s David Hayden…’ Every farm brings their own individual cheerleading contingent. You don’t see that on a normal day.” Rodman calls thousands of races in a year and has called, oh, 300 or so Maryland Million races. The races, the calls, they don’t stand out, but the horses do.
“People might have their favorites calls, but I don’t recall any. Fan favorites like Ben’s Cat, you’re always rooting for them, his race wasn’t really written in the program, so deep down inside you’re rooting for him but you know he’s up against it,” Rodman said. “A horse I named, Phlash Phelps, after a friend of mine who I worked with, a DJ on Sirius/XM, we had a lot of fun with that. In recent years, I was rooting for him, or an old vet like Talk Show Man. Eighttofasttocatch was one of my favorites in Maryland of all time. Early in the game, Frugal Doc, Mz. Zill Bear was a special horse. . . the calls, I couldn’t even quote a line.”
And then there’s a horse who ran in the Maryland Million five times but never won.
“Remember Mary’s Buckaroo? I always remember him,” Rodman said. “They offered me a quarter of him for $1,250 as a yearling and he wound up winning 350 or something. . .”
Bred by George Swope, owned by Jackson Bryer and trainer Mary Joanne Hughes, the son of Roo Art won 17 races, finished second in two Maryland Million Classics and earned $723,895.
But who’s counting?
Trainer Jerry Robb
Tied for third on the all-time trainers’ list with eight wins – with five others – John “Jerry” Robb won his first Maryland Million race with Little Bold John in 1987, the second year for the program. A Maryland-bred Hall of Famer, Little Bold John started 105 times, won 38 races and earned $1,956,406. Robb has since gone on to train Anna’s Bandit, the 2019 Distaff winner and likely favorite in that race this year.
“Winning it with Little Bold John was like winning the Derby, I guess, I’ve never won the Derby so I don’t know what that feels like. But it was special. There’s a long story with him. We got to the stall the morning of the race and he could hardly walk. He had a nick that got infected and it was pinching him. His leg swelled up and we spent all day long getting that down. He was on the Bowie racetrack in the chute jogging for an hour and a half to get it down. It wasn’t serious, and we knew what it was so we could get him moving, but it was a long, stressful day.”
Little Bold John made three more starts in the Classic, finishing third in 1988 and 1989 and sixth in 1992.
Trainer Dale Capuano
Tops among all trainers with 11 Maryland Million victories, Dale Capuano would like to put a little more distance between himself and the phalanx of challengers he’s pretty sure will swarm past one of these years.
“It kind of surprises me,” said Capuano, whose first win came in 1995. “It doesn’t seem like we’ve had that many lately and we’ve got to win a few more or they’re going to pass me. All those guys at eight are winning races every year.”
The gang at eight includes active trainers Tony Dutrow, Graham Motion, Jerry Robb, Hammy Smith and Mike Trombetta, but Capuano isn’t just going to let them get to him. He won with Monster Sleeping in 2013 and 2015, and plans to be back this year. His first one, with Foxie G in the 1995 Sprint, will always matter however.
“It seemed like it took forever to win the first one so like everything else once you get off the duck you feel a little bit better,” Capuano said. “He was a neat little horse by Horatius that belonged to my dad [Phil]. He was not a big horse, but he was gutsy. Everybody loved him.”
Bred in Maryland by Charles Reithmeyer, Foxie G won 14 races and wound up the namesake of a Thoroughbred retirement/rescue organization.
The Maryland Million program was received positively by horsemen early on, because it looked like an opportunity to win restricted races. Of course, the rich purses lured plenty of competition too. Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg won the first Classic with Kentucky-bred Herat, a son of Northern Dancer whose next start came in the Breeders’ Cup Classic-G1.
“When it first came around we were all excited, we thought we could run any kind of horse that was Maryland-sired and have a chance,” said Capuano. “We learned pretty quickly how tough it was going to be. Really nice horses ended up showing up. That helped the Maryland Million, gave those races a lot of credibility in the first few years. Some of those races were tougher than the open stakes.”
Other first-year winners were owned by major names Ned Evans and Sam-Son Farm, trained by Allen Jerkens, P.G. Johnson and Woody Stephens.
“I remember some really good sprinters showing up – King’s Swan, King’s Nest, Safely Kept would come,” Capuano said. “They were good races, they were hard to win. They still are, but it’s a little bit different now.”
Trainer Lizzie Merryman Four Merryman siblings – Ann, Lizzie and Edwin plus Katy Voss – have combined to win a dozen Maryland Million races. Their parents, John and Kitty, bred a winner each including Smart ’n Quick on the first card in 1986. Lizzie sent Roadhog out to back-to-back wins in the Turf (2012 and 2013), the second by a neck over Maryland-bred legend Ben’s Cat.
“Both of Roadhog’s wins were exciting, but when he beat Ben’s Cat, that was really special. Just the race call, all of it. We all loved Ben’s Cat, and it wasn’t great to beat him, or it didn’t feel great. It was an honor just to run with him. He was out of his element [going a mile], but he ran great and so did Roadhog.
“Maryland Million is such a special Maryland day. Maryland racing is different. There’s so many racing families and farms and stuff based in Maryland. People spend their whole lives in Maryland, and if they’re involved in racing at all they come out and love it. The stallions, the horses, the people they know. They love seeing that. It’s a lot about being a tight-knit racing community. Pennsylvania is year-round but it’s more spread out – Parx, Penn National, Presque Isle Downs – and they run at the same time. Maryland is more of a unit. There’s always been such good breeding through the years. “When it comes, the day always reminds me of my dad. He was so into helping it get started. I remember him talking about it early on. He was so into creating more opportunities for breeders. Breeding was everything to him. He was always so into making things like that work. That’s why I’ve always kept breeding . . . sometimes I wonder why when I add it all up but then you get a good one or one you’re proud of and that changes everything.”
Jockey Edgar Prado
Edgar Prado leads all jockeys with 18 wins in the Maryland Million. Those wins span decades, generations as the Hall of Fame jockey won with Brilliant Brass and Silent Testamony in 1992 and the Classic aboard Saratoga Bob in 2018. A Maryland mainstay for a decade, Prado leads fellow Hall of Famer Ramon Dominguez, who is retired, by one win and Mario Pino, based at Presque Isle Downs again this year, by two wins. Prado guided Algar to back-to-back Classics in 1997-98 for Barbara Graham and Jimmy Murphy.
“I had won a lot of races on Brilliant Brass, she was a heavy favorite for that race [the Distaff], she stumbled real bad, but when you’re in the zone and you believe in yourself, you do what is best for the horse without thinking. When you’re winning, the bigger mistakes are forgiven. When you’re losing, the smallest mistakes are big mistakes.
“Algar was one of the best, he could have won three in a row, he was third the first time. I was trying to ride for Mr. Murphy from the day I arrived in Maryland, he said I’m using Allen Stacy and [Donnie] Miller, I said, ‘You’ll find out, you’ll win more races with me.’
“When I came back and won on Saratoga Bob, for Bob Manfuso, Katy Voss, my old friend, Wayne Harrison, who had horses with Vinnie Blengs, I was happy and sad. Maryland was so great to me for 10 years, from 1990 to ’99 when I moved my tack to Saratoga, I left a lot of people who I should have said personally, ‘I’ll see you later, I’ll come back, goodbye.’ Everything happened so fast, I packed my things and left. A lot of people who I rode for, I don’t think it was correct that I didn’t go and say thank you before I left. When I came back, I was hoping those people were still around but most of them are gone. It was, how do you say it? Bittersweet.”
Trainer Tim Keefe
If you mention Tim Keefe and the Maryland Million, surely, you’ll think of Eighttofasttocatch. The Maryland-bred son of Not For Love won 17 races and more than $1 million, including three Maryland Million Classics in 2011, 2013-14, for owners Arnold and Sylvia Heft. But, go ahead and ask Keefe about the Maryland Million, the Laurel-based trainer will get to Eighttofasttocatch, the best he’s ever trained, but not before talking about Anarex and Celtic Innis. Owned by Bill and Phyllis Dixon’s Mea Culpa Stable, Anarex won the Distaff Starter Handicap in 1994. Celtic Innis, owned and bred by Allen and Audrey Murray, won the Sprint in 2008.
“I had been working for Ronnie Cartwright, he was a mentor on the track for me. He had trained for Mea Culpa Stable for quite a while, he suggested to the Dixons that they send her over to me. That was cool, just the fact that he did that for me. We waited all day long. Ronnie had won with Mz. Zill Bear for them and everybody stuck around, nobody expected Anarex to do anything, she was 35-1. She jumps up and wins, that was the most memorable one for me, for all those reasons, it was special.
“Celtic Innis was special because Mr. and Mrs. Murray were long-time breeders in Maryland, that was awesome, he just hung on and won. He was an honest horse, just a local horse who ran hard every time he ran. You could always count on him for a true effort.
“With Eighttofasttocatch, they were all different. The last one was the most memorable because Arnie had died, it was supposed to be his last race and everybody knew that Arnie had wanted to have a horse earn over a million dollars. It was great to win it, after he wins, everybody’s all excited and then we realized he had gotten to $997,000. We figured it was Arnie’s way of making those lawyers let me run him one more time to hit the million-dollar mark. He won the Jennings in his next start and we retired him. That was magical.”
Trainer Ronnie Cartwright
Longtime Maryland-based trainer Ron Cartwright retired in 2005 with 690 wins and more than $13 million in earnings. He’s still tied for 10th on the all-time Maryland Million trainers’ list with six wins. Half came in one day when Buckingham Farm’s Forry Cow How won the Classic, Gayquare won the Starter Handicap and Mz. Zill Bear won her first of three consecutive Ladies for Mea Culpa Stable in 1993.
“The day with three wins, the Classic with Forry Cow How, the starter race with Gayquare and the top filly race with Mz. Zill Bear. They were all standouts. Forry Cow How was one of my favorites, he was a fine horse, loads of stamina, he did everything good. Mz. Zill Bear was a lovely filly, if she stayed in Maryland, she would have won a lot more races, we went to California twice, those trips were tough. The Maryland Million races didn’t take much out of her. The day was great, kept getting those big glass bowls. I had five of them on the mantel piece, I’ve given all of them away except for one. It was a very pleasant day, everything went right, I was getting tired going to the winner’s circle, that’s a good way to get tired.”
Owner/breeder Suzanne Moscarelli
Suzanne Moscarelli thinks of the Jiffy Lube Maryland Million Sprint every day. Well, every day she walks into her office at Country Roads in Warwick, Md. The win photo hangs on her wall. Trained by Allen Jerkens and ridden by Vince Bracciale Jr., Cool Joe – a homebred son of Cold Reception – won five races, none bigger than the one on a September afternoon at Pimlico in 1987. There’s Suzanne, her husband Vinnie, Jerkens’ son Jimmy and partners Joe Kocurck and Joe Menafra.
“We were all young and slim and looking good. It was the thrill of the year. Vinnie trained him and then we sent him to Jerkens up in New York. The Maryland Million came up and he said, ‘Oh, he should go.’ We had two partners, Joe the Polack [Kocurck] and Joe the Crusher [Menafra]. They were two New York buddies of Vinnie’s. Allen, of course, he had a little piece of the action. Jimmy Jerkens was just a kid, he saddled the horse.
“You know Allen, you could never get a straight answer from him, he would always say, ‘I don’t know how he’s going to run, I don’t know, I don’t know . . .’ Vinnie would always tread carefully to find out what was going on. If the horse didn’t win, he would be throwing his buckets and Vinnie would say, ‘Look, if you had Angel Cordero on him, he wouldn’t have won, forget it, let’s go down to the Italian restaurant and have dinner.’ And we did.
“Cool Joe went back to Charles Town, we bred our cheap mares to him, we didn’t publicize him or do anything big, we just took our own mares to him. He sired Sittin Cool, he turned out to be pretty darn good and a few others. We had offers to sell them, Vinnie and I wanted to sell. They said, ‘It’s not going to change our lives, we’re still going to have a cup of coffee and we want to go to the races and see them.’ They decided just to roll on. Those were good days.
“The Maryland Million was unbelievable. Cool Joe’s buried right here at Country Roads. We have an almond tree, it took off, it’s huge, he’s underneath there.”
Owner/breeder JoAnn Hayden
Imagine being relatively new in the game and breeding a horse like Safely Kept. By Horatius out of the Winning Hit mare Safely Home, she won three of her first four starts and kept right on winning – three Maryland Million Distaffs, a Breeders’ Cup Sprint, an Eclipse Award as champion sprinter (before they created a female sprinter division) and ultimately a spot in racing’s Hall of Fame.
That was JoAnn and David Hayden, who foaled and raised Safely Kept on their Dark Hollow Farm, sold her as a 2-year-old and then went on the ride of a lifetime that really hasn’t stopped. Alone or in partnerships, they have bred the winners of seven Maryland Million races – Eighttofasttocatch, the only three-time Classic winner (2011, 2013, 2014), and 2005 Classic winner Play Bingo, and are involved in most every aspect of the Thoroughbred industry now.
“We were first-generation horse people. I didn’t have a grasp what it was going to mean to me later on. We were so fortunate to experience what we did with her. We expected the horses we would breed would go on and do great things, but now I look back on it with such awe. I can’t believe that we were able to do that with our mare. She was by nothing, out of nothing, and her daughter turned out to be everything.
“Now, it’s different. We’re more commercial breeders, so we don’t have as many Maryland Million horses, but we take the family there and have a good day. It’s a family thing. It’s about celebrating horses. We wanted the family to see the beauty of the day, the beauty of the horses. We always get a table right up front so they can see everything. We breed to some Maryland sires here and there, I’m so happy to see it coming back now, and we foal Ellen Charles’ mares so there’s usually someone to cheer for. The day has a different feel and a different meaning now. I don’t appreciate it any less. “It’s a great day of racing. It’s not just the fans, it’s the families of people and the people you see there every year.”
Trainer Larry Murray
He won four Maryland Million races as a trainer, including the oldest winner and at one time the highest $2 win payout (Bear Access, $134.20 in 2014), and helped owners/breeders Sondra and Howard Bender realize plenty of success on the big day, but retired trainer Larry Murray doesn’t hesitate to single out his favorite memory.
La Reine’s Terms tried the Maryland Million Turf in 1998 (fourth), 1999 (third) and 2001 (seventh). He broke through with a win in 2002, missed the 2003 season entirely and was third in 2004. Everybody, Murray included, figured that was it. The son of Private Terms and the Benders’ King’s Bishop mare La Reine Elaine had other ideas.
“He used to go home to the farm every winter because he was a grass horse, and I’d bring him back in the spring. That year, he was like an old car – he had some creaks and sags but he worked out of them. He was 10 and just wasn’t getting with the program though, not that we were pushing him. He just didn’t seem like he was into it, so I told his rider Val Kounelis to let him do whatever he wanted. She’d jog him to the wire and if he wanted to pick up a gallop, fine. If not, she’d jog him around and go back to the barn. He trained himself basically.
“He loved it. He was the king at the racetrack, and we pampered the hell out of him. She’d be on him for 45 minutes some days. We let him do whatever he wanted. About July, he started getting into it again and wanted to do more so I said, ‘Let him run down the lane if he feels like it.’ Then it was getting to be September, we’d get a cool night here and there and he’d really get on the muscle and we started breezing him. I looked at the calendar and said, ‘You know what? We could make the Million,’ which was crazy because he hadn’t run since the year before. I knew who was around, and thought he could be tough, but it could have turned out bad. He could have thrown in a clunker.”
Not a chance. Le Reine’s Terms, in his first start since finishing third in the race a year earlier, won. It was the 40th, and final, start of his career which included 16 wins and $804,591 in earnings.
“That was just magical,” Murray said of the 2005 win. “Looking at the winner’s circle picture now, there were a hundred people in there.”
Retired to the Benders’ Glade Valley Farm and later Summer Wind Farm, La Reine’s Terms died in January at age 25.
On leading sire Not For Love
The Maryland Million was always meant to be about the stallions. Maryland-based stallions. No stallion has made a bigger impact on the Maryland Million than Not For Love. As versatile as a black cocktail dress, as potent as a straight-up martini and as prolific as Van Morrison, the all-time leader towers above all stallions when it comes to success on Maryland’s biggest day, producing 36 wins, 14 better than Allen’s Prospect, who towers above the next pair Great Notion and Two Punch with 13 wins apiece.
Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey trained Not For Love for owner/breeder Ogden Mills Phipps. The bay colt by Mr. Prospector out of Grade 1 stakes winner Dance Number won four races, including two allowance races, the first at 13⁄8 miles on the turf and the second 13⁄16 miles in the slop 11 days apart at Saratoga in 1994, for McGaughey and Phipps.
“He was a nice kind of horse, just a little under the radar, he knocked on the door a few times. He was dirt or turf, didn’t matter,” McGaughey said. “He was pretty easy to tell you the truth, just a little under the radar winning a stake and being a top kind of horse.”
Richard Golden purchased Not For Love after 22 starts for McGaughey/Phipps, with eyes on the stallion shed at Northview Stallion Station. Golden sent Not For Love to Maryland-based Graham Motion who engineered two more allowance wins but wasn’t able to win a stakes.
In eight stakes starts for McGaughey and Motion, Not For Love managed a third in the Bob Harding Stakes at Monmouth Park in 1994. He made up for the missing piece on the track with an all-encompassing stud career.
“Kind of a blocky Mr. Prospector. A world of pedigree,” McGaughey said. “He made a really nice stud. I followed him. I would have liked to have a few of them. I love that he did well down there.”
Mark Johnston rolled past Mike Smith in the 1994 Maryland Million Classic. The Maryland-based mainstay hunched over like he was easing one to the pole in the morning rather than driving one home in the $150,000 feature. Smith, a future Hall of Famer, was going nowhere on Glide Home, a 10-1 longshot, as Johnston tried to temper odds-on favorite Taking Risks.
“Let him go, let him go, let him go on and go,” Smith yelled.
Johnston let out a sliver of rein on King Leatherbury’s charge and it was over. Taking Risks drew off to thump Frugal Doc by 7¼ lengths, one of 10 wins for the Lakeville Stable runner after Leatherbury claimed him for $20,000. The Hall of Fame trainer was mad about the Maryland Million.
“Leatherbury never got mad about anything. I stood up too early and got a horse beat on the wire one day. You know what Leatherbury said? ‘Well, I had the exacta and it paid a lot better with Bailes’ and Rocco’s horse on top and we still got the condition,’ ” Johnston said. “That day at the Maryland Million, he was mad, I went too fast and won by too many. ‘Don’t squeeze the lemon.’ Not with this horse, but with the other horses, he could keep them at a lower claiming level if he you didn’t make them look too good.”
Johnston knew the approach and abided by it, until Mike Smith stepped into the play.
“Maybe him telling me that is why I won by too much,” Johnston said. “How do you not listen to Mike Smith? I’m telling you, I really didn’t let him run that much.”
Taking Risks provided one of eight Maryland Million wins for Johnston, still seventh on the all-time list, 16 years after retiring with more than 3,000 career wins.
“What a fun day. My mom, my sister, sometimes my grandmother would come up that day. As a Maryland jockey it was a really good day because you could stay on most of those horses. When the Preakness came around, it was hard to stay on some of those horses, when those top guys would come to town,” Johnston said. “On Maryland Million Day, you got to stay on those horses and win some nice races. I liked Maryland racing. Purses were good, you could live in one place all year round, you could make a good living and have a good lifestyle. I miss it like crazy.”
Maryland’s track photographer
Jim McCue got out of the U.S. Army in 1970, got a job with family friend, Jerry Frutkoff, photographer at Timonium, went to Laurel Park in the fall and has been there ever since.
“I was the U.S. Army photographer. My parents owned horses back in the ’60s, John Lenzini, the old man trained for them,” McCue said. “Jerry said one day, ‘Whenever you get out of the Army, come around.’ And here I am. How could it get any better than this? How many people can say they truly love their job?”
McCue’s 50-year stint includes every edition of the Maryland Million, from the first one when 20,103 fans walked into Laurel to eight spectacles at Pimlico to the record crowd of 26,788 at Laurel in 2007 to last year’s renewal when Forest Fire won the Classic. He’s seen 3,336 horses compete from A and Out to Zonda.
“The first one was so exciting because it was really something new. Jim McKay, Chick Lang, Billy Boniface, those guys were great, they came up with some great ideas,” McCue said. “It was a thrill to get all the Maryland horses together. It was about Maryland. Then everybody else copied it. It’s always a great day, celebrating Maryland racing and Maryland breeding. Maryland has been in the game a long time, people don’t realize what Maryland has contributed to the horse industry.”
McCue swears he doesn’t root for the owners who order the most photos, but he sure knows who they are after all these years.
“Probably Country Life. They order 30 or 40 photos. They were always big,” McCue said. “I’m happy to have one of the greatest jobs on the racetrack all these years. I feel very blessed to have the privilege of having this job. Nobody bothers me, I know what they want before they know.”
Robin Richards needed company for her homebred son of Two Punch. It was October 1992. She called Dickie Small and asked if she could bring her gray gelding to Pimlico to breeze with one of his horses.
“I had run out of horses to work him with at Middleburg,” Richards said. “At that point, I had never even had an allowance horse.”
This was no allowance horse.
Richards and her Belgian friend Laurent Goosens arrived at Pimlico and Small set up a breeze with Dancing Douglas, an unraced son of Dancing Count who would go on to win 11 races, including the Royal Vale Stakes at Pimlico the following summer, and Richards’ homebred.
They breezed 6 furlongs from the gate.
It wasn’t even close.
Back in his tack room, Small called the Philadelphia Park entry office and entered Dancing Douglas, then handed the phone to Richards.
“Here, I’m entering my horse, you might as well enter yours,” he said. Richards picked up the phone and entered her horse. Punch Line. Gelding. By Two Punch. Out of Hilarious Astro. Owner/trainer: Althea Johnson (Richards). Jockey: Laurent Goosens.
The day of the race, a tout asked Small if he liked his horse.
“I like him fine, but he can’t even warm up that big gray thing,” Small said. Punch Line won and paid $83.20.
“I was always very proud that I bred him and broke him and I was the only person on his back until the week he ran,” Richards said.
Punch Line won his next three, including the Harriman Stakes, and wound up winning five more races for Richards and later Small as trainer, including the Madok Stakes at Laurel, the Blue Sword Stakes at Aqueduct and the Centennial Handicap at Remington Park. Laid up with a chipped knee after finishing third in an allowance race at Laurel in March 1995, Punch Line met up with Billy Turner and really got good. At 6, he won the Maryland Million Sprint at Laurel in 1996, the first of 12 wins (seven stakes) for Turner.
“Punch Line just got better and better. He was a fun horse. He could go in 8 and change like breaking sticks. Billy deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, he kept that horse in perfect form,” Richards said. “Everybody sort of assumed he was retired, to come back and win the Maryland Million, it was really fun.”
Punch Line retired with 21 wins from 55 starts for $963,749.
“I really wanted him to break a million dollars,” Richards said. “He ran at just about every track, with about every jockey, from about every post position. He was a huge part of my life for about a decade. He was something, his mother had a bunch of foals that were absolutely useless. It was like he fell out of the sky.”
Punch Line retired on Richards’ Virginia farm and is buried near her barn.
Jockey turned trainer
Leah Gyarmati was planning on going to law school. The former jockey organized a meeting with two friends, Jean Zorn and Tuli Taylor, attorneys to pick their brains about law school. Members of Castle Village Stable, they guided Gyarmati through the process.
“I had stopped riding, I had a child, I was single, just divorced, I said, ‘I’ve got to get serious.’ I was going to law school,” Gyarmati said. “We had lunch, they gave me some guidance, the timeline, this and that.”
Then the conversation turned to horses and the lawyers lamented that they didn’t have any horses for Saratoga.
“Why don’t you claim a cheap horse?” Gyarmati said.
“Who will train it?”
“I’ll train it,” Gyarmati said. “I’ll train it.”
A week later, they had the money. A few months later, they had Flippy Diane. The daughter of Aaron’s Concorde finished second at Saratoga and made her next start in the Maryland Million Distaff Handicap. Gyarmati’s close friend, Diane Nelson, guided the gray mare to a front-running score over Fine Wood in the $100,000 dirt sprint.
“She was the first horse I ever trained, it was my second start, I broke my maiden in a stake,” Gyarmati said. “Castle Village was in its infancy, it was a lot of fun. There were a lot of partners there. Diane and I drove there together. When you lose, the drive home is really long. That day, we were on cloud nine. I was like, ‘There goes law school.’ ”
Gyarmati learned the game from Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens, riding 15 winners from 1997-99. Seven months after riding her last race, she was in Rodney Jenkins’ barn at Laurel with the favorite for the Maryland Million Distaff.
“I was very nervous. At that time, I did everything myself,” Gyarmati said.
“I grew up riding show horses, Rodney Jenkins was an idol of mine and here I am in his barn. He couldn’t have been more welcoming and helpful to me, I was a nervous wreck. It was a fairytale.”
Gyarmati never made it to law school and has carved out a 22-year career which has yielded 297 wins, including the Grade 1 Spinaway, Acorn and Test stakes with Sweet Reason, and nearly $17 million in earnings.
Laffit Pincay Jr.
Tony Matos was a stakes agent. That’s how Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. still describes his longtime agent.
Giving Matos a stakes-filled card at Pimlico in 1987 was like giving Pete Rose the swing sign on a 3-0 count. Matos called Billy Boniface, Ron Alfano and other Maryland stalwarts to book rides for his California stalwart.
“When it comes to big horses, he’s the best, he’s sharp, he knows everything,” Pincay said. “He was after Sunday Silence before he ever ran, you have no idea how he went after that horse. That day at the Maryland Million, he had me on a bunch of good horses.”
Pincay won the Ladies on Gold Glove for Boniface and Ivy Dell Farm, won the Nursery for Boniface and Jim and Margaret McManus (yes, Jim McKay and his wife) and the Turf on Ringing for Ron Alfano and the Estate of J.L. Reynolds.
“Jim McKay was so happy, he was really, really nice. One of those days you never forget. So many people there, it was exciting to have success like that,” Pincay said. “It was exciting to ride all those races, it was for a lot of money. Jockeys love to win stakes races. More money. More prestige. More colorful. More people. To have three wins on a day like that…”
Pincay came back a year later to win the Turf on Master Speaker for Anderson Fowler and Buddy Raines. Four wins of a record-breaking 9,530.
The mighty Awad Dave Donk traveled to Maryland many times in his five years as assistant for Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens. He was at the Maryland Million with Glow in 1986. Bred by Claiborne Farm and the Gamely Corporation, the son of Northern Dancer won the Turf for Sonia Rogers.
“Glow was a really cool horse. So much history and great racing in Maryland, there were a lot of Saturdays that somebody went to Laurel or Pimlico to saddle a horse for Woody,” Donk said. “Big day, the Maryland Million was one of the first. Kudos to Jim McKay and all the others.”
Six years after Glow, Donk returned to the Maryland Million with a maiden turf horse. Awad finished second to Silent Testamony in the Maryland Million Maiden Turf. Bred and owned by Ryehill Farm, Awad broke his maiden in the Grade 3 Pilgrim at Belmont Park in his next start. At 3, he captured an allowance at Gulfstream Park, the Lord Avie at Gulfstream, the Humphrey S. Finney at Laurel, the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington Park and took the Maryland Million Turf in his next start.
“I won two races that day, I won another race for Ryehill. Bewarned. She beat the boys in a little grass race for 2-year-olds. Jorge Velasquez rode both horses,” Donk said. “Awad changed my life. I went on my own in the beginning of ’91, he was in the second crop I got in ’92. It allowed me to be on a national scale, on the front page of the Form. He won a lot of races, the Arlington Million, the Manhattan, the Sword Dancer, went to Japan twice, the Breeders’ Cup. Even to this day, horses like that, days like that, will never fade away.”
Awad won 14 races from 70 starts for $3.2 million. A son of Belmont Stakes winner Caveat, Awad is one of two horses to win a Maryland Million race and sire a winner of a Maryland Million race. Awad’s son Let Me Be Frank won the Starter Handicap in 2008. Cherokee’s Boy won the Nursery in 2002 and produced Steady Warrior to win the Nursery in 2010.