The Preakness may be more prestigious, and the Washington International may be more cosmopolitan, but for a full day of high-quality horse racing, there's nothing in this region that can compare with the Maryland Million this Saturday at Pimlico.
Only the offspring of Maryland stallions can participate in these 12 racing events. The six-figure purses have made the day enormously popular with owners and trainers: a record 201 horses were originally entered in these races, despite a continuing decline in the state's foal crop of thoroughbreds. That, in turn, draws some of the nation's top jockeys to Pimlico and a large crowd that for the past three years has topped the number of fans attending the International.
Thanks to this one-day event, Maryland's share of the racing market in the Mid-Atlantic region is on the rise. The number of state-bred foals and mares bred to Maryland stallions is up smartly. Nominations for the Maryland Million should set a new record this year.
This is quite an achievement, given the near-depression in the racing industry. Times are gruesome at the tracks: the recession and changes in federal tax law have meant fewer owners buying fewer horses, fewer breeders and fewer live races at Pimlico and Laurel. Some of Maryland's best-known horse farms have closed. And now Gov. William Donald Schaefer is proposing an electronic video-gambling game that could cut sharply into wagering at the race tracks and foreclose the possibility of off-track betting parlors in Maryland.
The one bright spot is the Maryland Million. Television sportscaster Jim McKay has crusaded mightily for this event, luring a bevy of corporate sponsors to underwrite the races and creating widespread enthusiasm in Maryland horse circles. There are 12 races on the card, and any one of them can mean a big pay day for the winning breeder, owner, trainer and jockey. No wonder Maryland stallions are being favored for breeding purposes.
This will be the only day of pure Free State racing in 1992. All the horses in these 12 races were "made in Maryland," though they may have been foaled elsewhere. It is the best display of this state's horse-breeding industry, one that sparks renewed hope that better times may yet lie ahead. Sponsors are betting a million on that prospect come Saturday.