Today's card at Pimlico Race Course might be remembered as the first "Muddy Million."
The Maryland Million program has been blessed with good weather in its six previous runnings.
But predictions that the Baltimore track would be doused last night with up to three inches of rain, the effects of tropical storm Danielle, caused trainers to rethink strategy and management to consult weather forecasters.
Track operator Joe De Francis said that if the
rain tapers off by noon and the skies clear, the three turf races on the Maryland Million card will be run on the grass course.
"It's just a question of waiting and hoping," he said.
The weather seemed to be on everyone's mind yesterday as last-minute preparations were being made.
One corporate sponsor, who rented a tent in the Pimlico infield, asked to move his company party inside to the Triple Crown Room.
"Of course, we will accommodate them," De Francis said. "But we can put artificial turf out in the [tented village] area, and if the rain stops, it's going to be fine there."
Maryland Million publicist Joe Kelly had hoped that last year's record crowd of 23,254 would be topped today, but he tempered his enthusiasm after the rains set in. "We'll be happy now to equal last year's attendance," he said.
Charlie Peoples, who trains program favorite Baron de Vaux in the Maryland Million Classic, said he will scratch the horse if the track is muddy.
"He's already shown he can't handle an off-track," Peoples said.
Mary Eppler, who trains favored P.J. Higgins in the Maryland Million Nursery, also indicated she might not run her horse. "If the track is sloppy and real speed-favoring," she said, "I could even scratch him. I don't think it would be to his advantage."
Carlos Garcia, whose Brilliant Brass is expected to duel with Wood So in the State of Maryland Distaff Handicap, said he will still run his mare. "But she hates the mud," he said.
Dick Delp, who trains Smart Alec, the expected favorite in the Sprint, said his horse can handle an off-track. "But I'd be happier if it were fast," he said.
Other trainers were encouraged by thoughts of slop and glop.
"Asserche loves mud," said John Alecci, who owns the 4-year-old gelding favored in the Maryland Million Starter Handicap.
Horsemen who rely on bloodlines to predict how well their animals will race in the mud said a wet track will help the offspring of Caveat, Carnivalay, Allen's Prospect and Baederwood. All of these stallions are represented by Maryland Million starters.
Jerry Robb, who trains 10-year-old Little Bold John, said the geriatric gelding loves an off-track. "This should help his chances [in the Classic]," he said.
Observers seem to think there is more depth and overall quality to this year's Maryland Million card.
Even such standout jockeys as Kent Desormeaux and Julie Krone are not riding all the favorites.
Desormeaux, who was winless with seven mounts yesterday, only rides two expected favorites, Asserche and Bisher.