After 9-year-old Frugal Doc won last year's Maryland Million Classic, becoming the oldest horse to win a Maryland Million race, Scott Posey, his trainer, dreamed of his winning again this year at 10.
But when Frugal Doc didn't recover fully from a ligament injury this summer, and when his left front pastern joint showed an unusual bend, Posey retired the old boy.
"No question we wanted to be back here," Posey said. "But there was no way in hell we were going to take a chance with this horse. If something happened to him, I'd never forgive myself."
Last year, Frugal Doc won it uncharacteristically by darting to an early lead. As the longest long shot ever to win the Classic, he paid $72.20.
Stabled at the Bowie Training Center, Posey said Frugal Doc is looking for a new career, maybe as Posey's pony for riding between the barn and the track, maybe on a farm "where he's got room and can do what he wants to do -- be a horse," his trainer said. "Whatever's going to make him happy is what he's going to do."
Concern over 'Buckaroo'
Although Mary's Buckaroo is the 9-5 morning-line favorite in the $200,000 Classic, he is no sure thing.
His trainer, Mary JoAnne Hughes, is concerned the race may lack the quick early pace to set up his usual late charge and that he may encounter traffic problems from his outside post.
Wicapi is the second-most accomplished horse in the race. A 5-year-old son of Waquoit, Wicapi has won 10 of 35 races and earned $233,069. His trainer is Allen Iwinski, the leading trainer at Delaware Park.
Iwinski has trained the gelding only since June, when the horse's owners decided to move him out of Florida. The goal since the horse entered his barn was the Classic, Iwinski said.
As last year's third betting choice at 4-1, Wicapi finished fifth in the Classic, four lengths behind Frugal Doc. As he galloped out, he stumbled, unseating his jockey, Kent Desormeaux.
"I understand he had a terrible trip that day, a terrible experience all around," Iwinski said. "But he's absolutely going in a positive direction now. He's just constantly improving.
"He's coming into the race as super as a horse can. I feel like we've got a big shot. As a matter of fact, I feel we're the horse to beat."
Jerry Robb's Run John John may be the horse everyone else has to try to run down. A 4-year-old son of John Alden, Run John Run recently won the Taking Risks Stakes at Timonium, beating Wicapi and Testing, another entrant in the Classic.
"I beat most of them at Timonium," Robb said. "Now, if they were running the Classic at Timonium, I'd feel a lot better."
Robb plans on saddling nine horses today, more than any other trainer. He said every race came up tougher than he expected.
"But you can't win it if you're not in it," he said.
Testing, a 4-year-old son of Deputed Testamony, is an intriguing prospect in the Classic. In his last 10 races, he hasn't finished worse than fourth. He's won five of his 16 races and finished second and third three times each.
"He's a 4-year-old getting better with age, as Deputed Testamonys tend to do," said Kevin Boniface, assistant to his father Bill, trainer of the horse. "He's a half-brother to Ops Smile, so he's got the bottom."
No slack in Distaff
Perhaps the toughest Maryland Million race today will be the $100,000, seven-furlong Distaff Handicap for fillies and mares 3 and older.
Seven of the nine entrants are stakes winners. Five of the nine won their last race.
Creamy Dreamy has won her last three. A 4-year-old daughter of Two Punch, Creamy Dreamy is trained by Katy Voss. Yesterday, Voss was cautiously optimistic.
"This is a tall order for her," Voss said. "The seven-eighths is a stretch, but she can get it under the right circumstances. Whether we'll get the right circumstances, I don't know."
Edgar Prado, the winningest rider in North America, takes over for usual rider Mario Pino, who chose to ride Weather Vane. Voss said Prado's task is to get Creamy Dreamy to relax on the rail with the entire field closing in outside her.
"The race really sets up for the other fillies," Voss said, "the ones coming from a little bit off the pace."
Secret Prospect will be one. The leading money-earner by Allen's Prospect, Secret Prospect has won 10 stakes races. Incredibly, eight have been at Laurel Park. Also, she is 5-for-5 at seven furlongs.
After spending the summer on the farm, Secret Prospect has returned to competition with two races -- a third and a win -- that set her up perfectly for the Distaff, said her trainer, John J. Tammaro III.
"I think she's sitting on a big race right now," Tammaro said.
Weather Vane, trained by Richard W. Delp, is also a threat. She is a 3-year-old daughter of Willard Scott.
"She's never been better," Delp said. "But she's taking on older fillies and mares for the first time."
She'll probably shoot for the lead. "You can't rate her," Delp said. "You just got to let her do her thing."
Trying to repeat