At Maryland Million, the fun never stops

Even between races, crowd at Laurel Park gets entertainment value

October 17, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Agnew strained at his leash. His little ears at attention. His little legs ready to gallop. The crowd along the rail was as quiet as a church congregation, awaiting the call.

And suddenly, Agnew, a Jack Russell Terrier who measures about a foot high, was off, leaping, clearing the 24-inch high barrier in front of him! The crowd roared.

Margarita, who had won her heat in an earlier Terrier race, came next. She cleared the barrier, too, but then used up her energy by leading her owner on a merry chase across the track. Next came Fuzzbuster, who wouldn't jump at all.

But Agnew jumped. He cleared 30 inches. Then 34 inches. And then 36. Agnew was on a roll. He cleared 40 inches!

Could he match his summer record of 43?

"He's been a couch potato lately," said his owner Cole Weston. "I'm not sure."

Agnew took off. He soared -- but the barrier fell and, so too, did Agnew. The crowd groaned, but not Agnew. He was rewarded. He got the tennis ball that had enticed him.

Maryland Million Day. It's like the county fair. It belongs to Jack Russell Terriers, whose owners brought them to Laurel Park to entertain between the scheduled 11 races. It belongs to jousters from five different clubs, trick riders and grand prix jumpers; to families, causal fans, horse owners and serious bettors.

It was surely Maryland's Day at the Races.

"It's kind of like the Preakness is the huge event for out-of-towners, and this is the local Preakness," said Jeanne Hughes, a medical secretary from Baltimore who brought her two daughters and a future son-in-law to share the good time. "They're doing a lot to entertain while we're waiting for the next race."

There were many ways to be entertained.

In the Sky Suite, above the Turf Club, Al Akman, Marty Mintz, Henry Rosenberg and Al Snell, four of the seven Baltimore businessmen who make up the ownership group Post Time '96, were enjoying dinner and champagne with friends and family as they waited for the ninth race and the running of their horse, Greenspring Willy.

"The skybox is great for its view, there is no question about that," said Akman, with the track spread below him and five televisions within easy view. "But through the years, we spent most of our life out there." And he motioned toward the general crowd.

Yesterday, he enjoyed a mixed day. Saratoga Friends, owned by he and three other investors, won the fifth race. But Greenspring Willy ran last.

Down on the main floor, every seat was taken in the new video simulcast area where the serious bettors sit at desks, new carpet under their feet and calculate their next wager while watching races at 27 different tracks.

"Whether up in the sky boxes or out in the bleachers in jeans, everyone is having fun," said Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club. "This is absolutely one of the best days in the year. I've walked back and forth in this facility time and again and everywhere I've been everyone is in a great mood."

Down near the rail, Tony Flinch of Jamaica was smiling. He had come to Baltimore to visit relatives and was enjoying his first Maryland Million Day.

"This is a beautiful racetrack," he said. "I would come again on vacation and come straight here."

And that was before the running of the ninth race. It was, Flinch said, the only race he was betting. Who was his money on?

"No. 8," he said.

And on this sun-filled day, who do you think won? Aristotle, of course. The No. 8 horse.

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