Algar rules in Classic finish 7-2 choice out-kicks 2-1 Mary's Buckaroo in Million Day feature

October 19, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The day was nearly done, nothing left to do except stand outside the paddock in front of a TV and watch the replay.

Mary JoAnne Hughes, trainer of Mary's Buckaroo, the favorite in the $200,000 Maryland Million Classic yesterday at Laurel Park, stood in silence, her eyes fixed on the TV.

Her gray gelding, whom she helped deliver six years ago, was pushed wide around the first turn, ran wide down the backstretch, rallied gamely between horses around the far turn, but then lost by a neck after a gallant charge to the wire.

"But see, he tries," said Hughes, who trains at Bowie and lives in Sykesville. "He ran like he always does. He tries. He tries so hard."

Algar, a horse who hadn't won in a year, prevailed in the stretch after his own powerful surge on the outside. His victory in the next-to-last race was worth $110,000 and highlighted a day of highlights: Maryland Million Day, the state's second-biggest day of racing after the Preakness.

"Even though the Preakness is our day of national recognition, this day is the heart of our local industry," said Joe De Francis, majority owner of Pimlico and Laurel Park. "What makes it special is the focus is all on Maryland. This is a day to celebrate Maryland pride."

A festive crowd of 14,494 attended the celebration: 10 races worth nearly $1 million for horses sired by Maryland stallions. Another 3,522 at Pimlico and 2,009 at Rosecroft Raceway watched on TVs for an official total of 20,025. But hundreds more spent the afternoon at Maryland's off-track betting parlors.

"With the weather threatening, this kind of a crowd is gratifying," said Tim Capps, executive director of Maryland Million Ltd. "I like the fact I'm looking around and seeing a lot of young faces. That's good for the future of our industry."

Although 1 1/2 inches of rain fell at Laurel Park the previous night, not a drop fell during the races. Because of a soggy turf course, the steeplechase race was canceled for the third year in a row, but the long menu of entertainment options proceeded without a hitch.

Between races under gray skies, the merriment included a rider from the U.S. Equestrian team, comical races by Jack Russell terriers, a jousting demonstration and performances by "charro" Jerry Diaz, a roping and riding expert.

This was the 12th Maryland Million, and it topped them all for variety.

The racing was superb, too. It seemed that every time you looked up two or three horses strained in photo finishes for a place in Maryland Million lore.

Edgar Prado, North America's winningest jockey, won three races, increasing his Maryland Million tally to 12. No other jockey has won more than eight.

Prado now has 435 wins for the year, about 100 more than perennial leader Russell Baze, who rides in northern California.

If you didn't guess already, one of yesterday's triumphs came aboard Algar in the Classic, the richest race of the day.

"My horse was very sharp today," Prado said. "I wanted to go by horses as quick as I could, but I did have to wait a little before a hole opened up."

At 7-2, Algar, a 5-year-old son of Horatius, was the third choice on the board. Bettors preferred 2-1 Mary's Buckaroo and 3-1 Wicapi, a gelding from Delaware Park.

Mary's Buckaroo was the most accomplished horse in the field, entering the Classic with earnings of $619,985. In 45 races, all but three in Maryland, she had won 14. She had finished worse than third only 12 times.

But the undoing of Mary's Buckaroo, a 6-year-old son of Roo Art (hence his barn name "Artie"), came at the first turn. Breaking from the No. 8 post in the 1 3/16-mile race, jockey Mario Verge hustled him to the first turn looking for advantageous position.

Instead, two horses in front drifted out, forcing Mary's Buckaroo extremely wide. He ended up running farther than the other nine horses -- only to lose by a neck.

"It didn't help," said Hughes of the wide trip.

But she offered no excuses.

"Algar was the better horse today," Hughes said. "Maybe next time Artie will be the best horse."

Barbara C. Graham, who breaks horses at the Middleburg Training Center in Virginia, is listed as the trainer of Algar -- as well as owner and breeder. But Algar is stabled at Laurel Park with trainer James W. Murphy, whom Graham credited after the race.

Although Algar had not won since last October, he had consistently finished in the money in Maryland, Delaware and at Monmouth Park and Saratoga.

He paid $9.20 to win and headed a $26.40 exacta and $85.40 trifecta. The 4-1 Testing, trained by Bill Boniface, closed wide to claim third.

But Mary's Buckaroo, the gray horse with the big heart, was the sentimental favorite. Hughes' goal is for him to run in every Million through the year 2000. So far, he's run in three.

"The first question after the race is, 'Is he OK?', not whether he won or lost," said the gelding's owner, Jackson R. Bryer, an English professor at the University of Maryland.

After yesterday's race, Mary's Buckaroo seemed fine. Satisfied, Bryer said: "We'll be back next year."

Pub Date: 10/19/97

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