Feliciano may have to close eyes when Million Sprint gate opens

Bids by `Point,' `Ameri' leaving trainer in knots

October 10, 2003|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Ben Feliciano Jr. is already a nervous wreck.

He trains two of the fastest horses in Maryland, and he's about to run them against each other. He knows that's not wise. He wouldn't do it, he said, if it weren't the Maryland Million, known as Maryland's day at the races.

But it is the Maryland Million - 11 races for Maryland-sired horses tomorrow at Laurel Park. When the gates fly open and unleash the field in the Maryland Million Sprint, Feliciano will be watching with butterflies in his stomach - if he can bear to watch at all.

"I'd never do this if it wasn't the Maryland Million," he said. "And I'm not fond of doing it even then. Both these horses, when you open the gate, they start running and go. I'm just afraid there's going to be a suicidal pace ... "

Feliciano is afraid that Crossing Point, the 6-year-old gelding with two track records sprinting, and Ameri Brilliance, the 4-year-old gelding holding the world record for a half-mile (43.76 seconds at Timonium), will break in front, look each other in the eye and engage in an old-fashioned, two-horse, winner-take-all race to the wire.

Trouble is, the wire for the Maryland Million Sprint is six furlongs (three quarters of a mile) from the starting gate. Two horses running at breakneck speed probably can't hold up for three quarters of a mile.

"Deer Run and the other closers are probably licking their chops that I'm running both of them," Feliciano said.

Deer Run, winner of last year's Maryland Million Sprint, will likely stalk what should be a smoking pace and then pounce when the early fire begins burning out - assuming that it does. The best-case scenario for Feliciano's pair would be if one decided to relax, or rate, behind the other and conserve some kick for the stretch.

"Somebody asked me: Can you rate them?" Feliciano said. "Nope, I don't think so."

Feliciano, 38, has trained five sprinters who have set track records. In addition to Crossing Point and Ameri Brilliance, he conditioned Baby Shark (four-furlong record at Calder and 4 1/2 -furlong record at Mountaineer Park), Splendeed (five-furlong-turf record at Pimlico Race Course) and Oops I Am (5 1/2 -furlong turf record at Laurel).

Feliciano said he doesn't train sprinters differently from any of the 50 horses under his care.

"I train all the horses basically the same," he said. "I don't train them that much, or, I do not over-train them, let's put it that way. Light training keeps their legs fresh. Come race day, I want them fresh and happy."

Crossing Point has won half his 12 races since joining the Feliciano stable last summer. He crossed the finish line first in seven races but was disqualified from first in the Paumonok Handicap in January at Aqueduct after testing positive for clenbuterol. That's a legal drug for training but not for racing. It helps a horse breathe.

Feliciano speaks freely about racing's most sensitive subject. He acknowledges using multiple, permitted drugs on his horses - to help them breathe, to reduce bleeding from the lungs and to relieve their aches and pains.

He stresses that he strives to stay within the rules and doesn't try to cheat. Occasionally, his horses have tested positive for drugs not permitted in their systems on race day, and Feliciano has paid the fines and served the suspensions.

He may be the one in need of drugs tomorrow when Crossing Point takes on Ameri Brilliance - or maybe it's Ameri Brilliance taking on Crossing Point.

"If Crossing Point wasn't in the race, I'd say Ameri Brilliance would win," Feliciano said. "And if Ameri Brilliance wasn't in the race, I'd say Crossing Point would win."

What does he say with both in the race?

"I just may watch it from the bathroom," he said.

NOTES: Forest Music's six furlongs in 1 minute, 8.53 seconds in Laurel's fourth race Wednesday was not only the fastest six-furlong debut ever at Laurel, but also the fastest six furlongs ever run by a filly or mare at the track. Forest Music received a Beyer Speed Figure of 105, the highest this year for a 2-year-old of either sex. ... Five scratches have been recorded for Maryland Million races. Three were horses cross-entered in two races and two were the "also eligibles" in the Starter Handicap (Tamayno and Lucky Patriot). Coquettish was scratched from the Ladies and will run in the Oaks. Stepatatime was scratched from the Turf and will run in the Classic. And Quick Punch was scratched from the Sprint and will run in the Turf.

Md. Million

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

When: Tomorrow

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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