Fire scare no threat to Million fever


False alarm forces track to evacuate on first day

119 entered for Saturday

Laurel notebook

Horse Racing

October 09, 2003|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Racing returned yesterday to Laurel Park for its six-month fall-winter stand featuring the Maryland Million on Saturday. Things went well for one race.

Then, with fire alarms throughout the track flashing and emitting high-pitched alerts, the track was evacuated and fire trucks arrived with their lights flashing. It turned out there was no fire. An alarm in the Carriage Room, a banquet hall, had somehow been mistakenly triggered.

Patrons were allowed back in. Racing resumed. The second race started 12 minutes late, the third seven minutes late. By the fourth race, opening day was back on schedule and the Maryland Million reclaimed the spotlight.

The Maryland Million was the focus in the morning, when post positions were drawn for the 11 races for horses sired by Maryland stallions. Dubbed "Maryland's day at the races," the Maryland Million is the fall highlight of thoroughbred racing in the state. Some say it's the highlight of the whole year's racing.

"I love the Preakness," said Allen Murray, owner of Murmur Farm in Darlington. "But the Maryland Million is the biggest, most fun day of racing in Maryland."

A total of 119 horses were entered in the 11 races worth $1,025,000. The richest race is the Maryland Million Classic. Its $200,000 purse attracted nine horses, including last year's winner, Docent. Frank Carulli, track oddsmaker, labeled Docent the 3-5 favorite.

Since winning the Classic last year, the Delaware-based Docent has won seven of 11 races, including the Charles H. Hadry Stakes on Sept. 20 at Pimlico.

One of the most accomplished horses on the card is Finally Here, a 3-year-old filly in the Maryland Million Distaff. Trained by Tom Amoss at Churchill Downs, the daughter of Yarrow Brae has won five straight races at five different tracks, including the Grade III Duchess Stakes at Woodbine.

Weak Pimlico figures

Betting figures for the five-week Pimlico summer-fall meet that ended Sunday were released yesterday, and they showed sharp decreases in wagering in every category, largely attributable to Tropical Storm Isabel.

Betting in Maryland on out-of-state simulcasts dropped 6.4 percent from last year. Betting in Maryland on Pimlico dropped 24.6 percent. And betting out-of-state on Pimlico dropped 21.3 percent. The cumulative effect was a decrease in total wagering of 14.6 percent ($69,394,670 this year compared to $81,265,642 last year).

Lou Raffetto Jr., chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, said the numbers are not as disturbing as they appear to be. He said a combination of factors contributed to the decline.

First, Pimlico raced five days per week this year compared to four days per week last year. Less racing almost always generates stronger betting, he said.

Second, Pimlico competed head-to-head this year with Monmouth Park. The New Jersey track didn't run in September last year. And third, Isabel forced cancellation of two days' racing and severely disrupted betting in the state for days.

`Music' impresses

Forest Music, whose owner, Michael Gill, says may be the best 2-year-old filly in the country, easily won her debut yesterday in the fourth race at Laurel, blazing to an 8 1/2 -length victory in 1 minute, 8.53 seconds for six furlongs.

The track record is 1:07 4/5 set by Richter Scale in winning the Grade I Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash in 2000.

Gill, the nation's leading owner, bought Forest Music, a daughter of Unbridled's Song, in February for $325,000 after she breezed a quarter mile in a blistering 20 2/5 seconds at the Fasig-Tipton sale in February at Calder.

Gill has said Forest Music breezes faster than any other 2-year-old filly he races. However, the two published workouts for Forest Music at Fair Hill were a pedestrian 50 seconds and 52 seconds for a half mile. Yesterday, after bettors made her the 4-5 favorite, she blazed a half mile in 44.26 seconds.

After the race, Gill, who was not at Laurel, called his trainer, Mark Shuman. When Shuman hung up, he said: "He wants to go to the Breeders' Cup [Juvenile Fillies]. If she comes out of the race OK, we'll take a look at it."

Md. Million

What: Maryland Million; 11 races for horses sired by Maryland stallions

When: Saturday

Where: Laurel Park

First race: 12:35 p.m.

Purses: $1,025,000

Richest race: $200,000 Maryland Million Classic

Classic post time: 5:40 p.m.

TV: Channel 54, 4-6 p.m. (four races live, seven on tape)

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