It's Maryland to the core on Million day

State ties dominate script, but Docent wins Classic

October 12, 2003|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Maryland's day at the races, as the Maryland Million has been called throughout its 18-year history, was perhaps never more Maryland than it was yesterday at Laurel Park.

A horse named Move Those Chains won. He was named after the Ravens. A horse owned by Peter Angelos, owner of the Orioles, also won.

Jim McKay, who lives in Monkton and conceived the Maryland Million, mingled in the winner's circle with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who had come from Towson University, where he dedicated Johnny Unitas Stadium.

"I grew up with Johnny Unitas, and I grew up with Maryland racing," Ehrlich said. "I love them both."

Angelos, after accepting from McKay the trophy for his filly Willa On the Move, said of the Maryland Million, a series of races for horses sired by Maryland stallions: "It's really been a terrific idea.

"Today, we're the winners. But for the past 18 years, Maryland racing has been the winner because of Jim McKay."

Finally, Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, announced between races that the Baltimore Breeders' Cup Handicap, an annual race contested at Pimlico Race Course, has been renamed the Jim McKay Breeders' Cup Handicap.

As 17,687 people at Laurel enjoyed the races and festivities on a warm and sunny fall afternoon (and contributed to a wagering record of $6.3 million), only one crack appeared in this window on Maryland racing: a horse from Delaware won the biggest race.

For the second year in a row, Docent captured the Maryland Million Classic, a $200,000 race run at the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles.

The victory provided Clinton Potts, Docent's 32-year-old jockey, his richest win in a 13-year career.

It also culminated Potts' comeback from serious injuries suffered when a horse flipped over backward and crushed him in May at Delaware Park.

"It's always nice to win, but this really meant a lot to me," Potts said. "You sit there on your couch laid up, wondering whether you want to get back to riding horses and putting your body through all that again.

"Then you get on a horse like this and win a race like that, and it makes it all worthwhile."

Potts spent nearly 3 1/2 months on the sideline with a broken pelvis, several broken ribs, two broken collarbones and a punctured lung.

He returned last month and regained the mount on Docent, a 5-year-old gray gelding who has won 15 of 27 races.

Three of those wins were Maryland Million races: the Sweepstakes in 2001 and the Classic in 2002 and 2003.

For Tim Ritchey, Docent's Delaware-based trainer, this was his third straight triumph in the Classic. He saddled Sumerset to victory in 2001 before Docent graduated into the Classic ranks.

"The horse makes the trainer," Ritchey said of Docent. "He's the kind of horse that would make anybody look good."

Docent, the 3-5 favorite, out-nosed Presidentialaffair after a dramatic stretch duel in which Docent gained the lead, surrendered it briefly and then fought back gallantly to secure it at the wire.

"I really thought I'd go right by that other horse," Potts said. "I think my horse thought that once he got the lead, his job was done. But when that other horse came back, Docent dug in and got the job done."

Docent's time of 1 minute, 54.94 seconds was a mere one-fifth second off the track record set in 1994 by Taking Risks.

Although based in Delaware, Docent is a son of Waquoit, who stands at Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City.

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