Sports fans who think Cal Ripken's rookie season is a precious memory should come see Concerto today at Pimlico.
The 3-year-old chestnut colt is not a star yet. But if he runs as expected in the Federico Tesio Stakes, and then wins the Kentucky Derby in two weeks, those in attendance today will carry the glowing memory for years.
And Concerto's chances in the Derby are good. He has won four straight stakes, including the Jim Beam at Turfway Park, and six of his past seven races. His only loss was by less than a length to Captain Bodgit, who is the Derby co-favorite with Pulpit.
Concerto, a son of Chief's Crown, has never raced poorly. The question, as with all Derby contenders, is a simple one: Is he good enough?
His jockey, Carlos H. Marquez Jr., believes he is.
"He may not get the publicity that some of the other horses get," Marquez said. "But they'll be talking about him after the Derby. We're going there to win."
But first, there is the matter of the Tesio. Marquez will be aboard again for trainer John Tammaro III and owner George Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner, who also owns the New York Yankees, plans to attend the race.
Concerto's appearance highlights the Maryland Spring Breeders' Challenge -- five stakes at Pimlico, four of which are for Maryland-breds. And the Tesio kicks off the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships (MATCH), an innovative series of races at tracks in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
The MATCH series consists of 35 races -- seven races in five divisions with purses of $3.5 million and bonuses of $500,000 to the top 10 trainers and owners. Led by Alan M. Foreman, executive director of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Associations, track officials and horsemen worked together to create the series.
"This is a first-of-its-kind venture in the United States," said Foreman, a Baltimore lawyer.
MATCH was conceived to eliminate overlap of similar stakes in the region, to create regional stars of horses that don't normally receive headlines and to generate excitement among fans as horses run repeatedly against each other.
The series will culminate Oct. 4 with championship finales in each division at Delaware Park, the Meadowlands, Penn National and Colonial Downs in Virginia -- assuming Colonial Downs opens in September.
ESPN2 will televise 12 MATCH races, starting with the Tesio. Post time will be 5: 22 p.m. The ESPN2 broadcast will start at 5 and will include three other stakes from Keeneland and Hialeah Park.
In the Tesio, a 1 1/8 -mile race with a $200,000 purse, the field drops off sharply after Concerto. And that is no knock on the other horses, who have been butting heads in local stakes while Concerto has sought glory at seven tracks in four states.
Clem Florio, the Maryland Jockey Club oddsmaker, tagged Concerto the 3-5 favorite. If you think that's low, consider that Concerto's last win was a $600,000 stakes, the Jim Beam on March 29.
His main competition in the Tesio -- Dr. Best at 3-1, Fearless Play at 6-1 and Cryptocloser at 12-1 -- finished 1-2-3 in a $56,000 stakes at Pimlico, the Private Terms, also three weeks ago.
In addition to the Tesio, open to horses born anywhere, the 11-race Pimlico card features four stakes for Maryland-breds, including the $100,000 Jennings Handicap for males and the $100,000 Geisha Handicap for females.
Pub Date: 4/19/97