Docent back for seconds in Million

Gelding tries to repeat in $200,000 Classic on state's big day of racing

Horse Racing

October 11, 2003|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Clinton Potts remembers that the horse, standing in the shedrow getting ready to go to the track, was calm and under control. Then, suddenly, the horse panicked.

"He just flipped over backwards, right on top of me," Potts said, grimacing at the memory of the May 24 accident at Delaware Park. "I stayed conscious throughout the whole thing."

The thousand-pound horse crushed the 115-pound body of Potts. Then the horse, flailing in an effort to get up, slammed back onto Potts three times. After the horse managed to get up, one of its hooves struck Potts in the groin, breaking his pelvis.

The 32-year-old jockey also broke both collarbones and several ribs and suffered a punctured lung.

Potts returned from those devastating injuries and subsequent grueling rehabilitation just in time to regain the mount on Docent, the heavy favorite in the Maryland Million Classic today at Laurel Park.

The $200,000 Classic is the headliner of the 18th Maryland Million - 11 races for horses sired by state stallions known as Maryland's day at the races.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Jim McKay are planning to stop by, as is Peter Angelos, who owns the Orioles as well as Willa On The Move, probable favorite in the Maryland Million Distaff.

About 20,000 people are expected to attend the races and parties under tents. Some will come principally for the between-race entertainment of trick-riding and jousting demonstrations, Jack Russell terrier races and more.

But the focus remains the thoroughbreds, specifically those offspring of stallions standing at Maryland farms.

Even though Maryland breeding and racing have suffered because of slots-subsidized programs in Delaware and West Virginia, the naysayers and complainers usually give up their soapbox on Maryland Million day.

"It's our greatest day," said King T. Leatherbury, the Maryland institution who recently became the third trainer in history to win 6,000 races. "It's our day, strictly Maryland."

But the Maryland Million spotlight may shine, as it did last year, on a horse from Delaware and a jockey originally from Texas.

Docent, a 5-year-old gelded son of Waquoit, who stands at Northview Stallion Station in Cecil County, won the Classic last year as the 3-2 favorite and will likely be even more popular with bettors today.

Since winning the Classic a year ago, Docent has won seven of 11 and raced at tracks in Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York. Even though he resides in the barn of Tim Ritchey at Delaware Park, Docent does not race in Delaware.

That's because Docent's breeder is Bernard J. Daney, chairman of the Delaware Racing Commission, and Docent's owner is Daney's wife, Arlene.

Delaware regulations prohibit racing commissioners and their family members from racing horses or betting on them in Delaware.

So Docent returns annually to Maryland, where he was conceived, to compete in the state's celebration of its stallions and breeding farms. A second straight victory in the Classic would be Docent's third in a Maryland Million race. He captured the Sweepstakes in 2001.

Ritchey, his trainer, will also be trying to prolong a streak. This would be his third straight victory in the Classic. He won in 2001 with Sumerset.

Ritchey didn't designate Potts as his regular rider until April, when Delaware Park opened. A native Texan based at times in Maryland, California, Pennsylvania and Delaware, Potts got to ride Docent once - to a seven-length victory in an allowance race May 21 at Pimlico Race Course.

Three days later, in a shedrow at Delaware Park, Potts suffered the injuries that kept him out of racing nearly 3 1/2 months.

When he returned, he found himself back on Docent during morning workouts and for a 3 1/2 -length win in the Charles H. Hadry Stakes three weeks ago at Pimlico.

"Loyalty's very strong with me," Ritchey said. "I figured when he was back healthy, he's the man."

Potts has ridden Docent twice and won twice. Asked what he likes most about him, Potts said without hesitation: "The thing I like most about him is he can run."

Potts has labored in the shadows during a career that started with his riding quarter horses in Oklahoma when he was 18.

The accident in May was his second serious one. In a spill in 2001 at Penn National, he broke five bones and underwent surgery during which an eight-inch metal plate and eight screws were implanted in his right forearm.

Potts has won $100,000 races before, but never anything richer. A victory in the Classic with its purse of $200,000 would be his greatest score.

Md. Million

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

When:Today

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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