With racing back, Million on horizon 115 horses sired by state stallions entered for Saturday

October 16, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

On the day that racing returned to Maryland, 115 horses sired by state stallions were entered yesterday in the 11 races Saturday that make up Maryland Million Day, the fall version of the Preakness Stakes.

Mike Pons, whose family runs Country Life Farm -- its stallions sired 24 of the entrants -- was absolutely giddy, and not merely about the approaching party known as the Maryland Million. Pons was ecstatic about having racing back.

"I didn't know how much I missed live racing until we went without it," he said. "And poor Dad, he was stall-walking. He was pacing the joint."

Pons attended the races at Laurel Park with his father, Joe, who likes to support the sons and daughters of the family stallions with a bob or two at the windows.

The Ponses weren't alone in their embrace of racing after its six-week hiatus while horses competed at Colonial Downs in southern Virginia. Attendance at Laurel Park was 4,208, about a thousand more than on a typical Wednesday during the week-to-week grind.

"Unfortunately, it's not a great day," said trainer Richard W. Small, referring to the cool, wet weather and the stiff competition from the Orioles' game. "But I'm enjoying it.

"I'm not opposed at all to a little break every now and then. I think that's good for everybody. It cuts back some on the racing so you have bigger fields and better races.

"But still, it's good to have racing back in Maryland."

He was especially pleased after the opening-day feature, the $55,375 Park Heights Stakes, when his Up An Eighth rallied four-wide as the longest shot in the six-horse field to win by a neck.

Up An Eighth, a 6-year-old mare with nearly $500,000 in earnings, also seemed to relish the layoff. A winner of 12 races in 55 starts, she hadn't competed since Sept. 6 at Delaware Park.

Of those 55 starts, only five came on the turf, the surface on which the six-furlong Park Heights was to have been run. But overnight rains forced it onto the dirt. Up An Eighth seemed ready to run on anything -- just so long as she could get back into action.

Al Smith shared the feeling. A resident of Washington, Smith said he had looked forward to racing returning to Laurel ever since it left in August.

"It's great," said Smith, 57, director of the farmer's market at RFK Stadium. "If I don't have a base track to go to, I feel a little lost."

Smith also raved about Laurel Park's remodeled first-floor grandstand, which features an old bar from the Power Plant and an exquisite simulcast theater.

"I like everything about it," Smith said. "It's bright, it's nice, it kind of gives you the sense you're at someplace more than just a racetrack."

He laughed and added: "I think it makes losing bearable."

NOTES: Laurel Park oddsmaker Clem Florio made Mary's Buckaroo the program favorite in Saturday's $200,000 Maryland Million Classic. Laurel Park officials said yesterday's $1 concession prices for everything except alcoholic drinks and tobacco products went so well that they're extending the deal to every Wednesday in October.

If you're going

What: Maryland Million Day, 11 races for horses sired by Maryland stallions

Total purses: $1 million

Highlight: $200,000 Classic

Where: Laurel Park

When: First race post time is 12: 30 p.m.

TV: Ch. 45, 4 to 6 p.m.

Pub Date: 10/16/97

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