After six runnings, the Maryland Million still is a novelty, but yesterday's renewal at Pimlico Race Course was old news in many respects.
Timely Warning won the program's richest event, the $200,000 Maryland Classic, marking the third straight winner in the race for owner Anderson Fowler, 80, and trainer Virgil "Buddy" Raines, 81.
The triumph for Timely Warning, a gelding whose 1990 Classic victory followed stablemate Master Speaker in 1989, was
preceded by the first three-time winners in the series for Maryland-sired horses. Safely Kept and Countus In won their respective events, the Distaff Handicap and Maryland Ladies, for the third consecutive year.
Mike Luzzi rode Timely Warning in the 1 1/4 -mile Classic, the 10th of 11 events worth a combined $1,065,000. Luzzi, 21, is Raines' grandson.
"It's a great thrill to win for Pop Pop," said Luzzi, who has been riding for less than four years. "Timely Warning is one of the first horses I ever got on. I couldn't even jog him at first."
After taking the lead from favored Baron de Vaux in the early stretch, Timely Warning won by nearly two lengths over Midas. ** Baron de Vaux finished another three-fourths of a length back in third in the field of seven.
The Million program was begun with a $15,000 race for amateur riders, won by Cool Brilliance, and the $50,000 Maryland Steeplechase, won by Make Azilian.
Then it was on to the nine traditional Maryland Million races, the events worth $1 million that have comprised the program since it was founded in 1986 by Jim McKay.
Safely Kept started with a front-running victory in the $100,000 State of Maryland Distaff Handicap. Although it probably was the hardest-earned of her three Million victories -- she won by a half-length over In the Curl, who dogged her throughout -- she was confidently ridden by Gary Stevens. And she may have had an excuse or two.
"She grabbed a quarter [struck her front hoof with her rear hoof] leaving the gate," Stevens said. "I rode her as conservatively as I could considering . . . she was carrying 130 pounds [12 more than In the Curl].
"At the eighth pole I hit her twice right-handed. I put my [whip] away after that."
Safely Kept, the national champion sprinter in 1989, will compete only twice more before being retired. Her last start will come in the Nov. 2 Breeders' Cup Sprint, a race she won last year.
Safely Kept, a 3-10 favorite, was followed to the winner's circle by another favorite, Coolin It, who won the $100,000 Maryland Nursery.
In the next race, Sweet Bunny, a mare racing against seven males, won the $50,000 Maryland Handicap. Then Missy White Oak, going off at 43-1, pulled the biggest upset in Million history in winning the $100,000 Lassie.
Smart Alec, the only 3-year-old in the field, won the seventh race, the $100,000 Maryland Sprint Handicap, with a late rally along the rail.
"This is a hard-trying horse," jockey Mario Pino said. "When he saw the opening, he took off and went right through."
Thirty minutes later, the $100,000 Maryland Turf, was won by Scottsville, marking a repeat victory for trainer John R.S. Fisher, jockey Rick Wilson and the stallion Deputy Minister. Last year, Hear the Bells won the Turf for the same combination.
The Turf led into another turf race, the $150,000 Maryland Ladies. Countus In, ridden by Julie Krone, dominated in the stretch after no more than four lengths separated the six starters with a half-mile remaining.
It was the second victory of the day for Krone -- she was aboard Missy White Oak in the Maryland Handicap -- and her seven career wins in the Million lead all jockeys. "After I blew out this filly last week in New York, I was really confident," she said. "In the race itself, we didn't have any problems."
Gaylord's Annie, ridden by Stevens, rallied inside to overtake McKilts and Hear the Bells for second, three lengths behind Countus In.
In the next race, the Classic, "we relaxed behind the speed, and then I turned him loose at the head of the lane," Luzzi said of Timely Warning, a son of Caveat.
"We had been pointing the horse for this all year," Raines said of the 6-year-old gelding. "He's getting older now, but he's a wonderful horse to train."
Joe Rocco, who rode Baron de Vaux, said: "He just got outrun today. Inside the eighth pole, he was a tired horse."
The finale, the $100,000 Maryland Oaks, was a runaway for Richard's Lass, a New York-based filly. She sped to the lead in the first turn of the 1 1/16-mile race, then steadily increased her margin throughout. Her 14-length margin is a Million record, and her winning time of 1 minute, 42 2/5 seconds is outstanding for a 3-year-old filly.
Pimlico officials reported attendance and handle records for yesterday's Million program, the first that offered as many as 11 races. Including business at Laurel inter-track, 23,254 patrons bet $2,385,129, breaking marks set in 1989 (22,820 and $2,367,355, respectively).