Presidentialaffair tries for Classic encore

Listed as favorite, 6-year-old has shot at becoming fourth repeat winner of Maryland Million's feature race, worth $250,000 this year


Philadelphia Park-based trainer Marty Ciresa returns to the Maryland Million Day races with the favorite in the $250,000 Classic this afternoon, but he has no trouble recalling his feelings from the days when he didn't even have an entry.

"I remember when I would have died to have had a horse in the Classic," said Ciresa, whose Presidentialaffair is the favorite today at Laurel Park to repeat his victory of a year ago.

"With a horse like Presidentialaffair, I know there is more pressure because people expect him to win," he said. "But if you do win, everyone remembers that's the horse that won the Maryland Million Classic."

A win would put Presidentialaffair in the company of just three others - Timely Warning (1990-1991), Algar (1997-1998) and Docent (2002-2003) - as repeat Classic winners.

Today will mark the 20th renewal of Maryland Million Day, a program for Maryland-sired horses. The $1.5 million purse is a 50 percent increase over the original purse and a national record for sire stakes events.

Lou Raffetto, the Maryland Jockey Club's chief operating officer, voiced disappointment over the possibility of a rainy Million Day and spent yesterday keeping his eyes on Laurel's two courses, keeping the turf course closed to be sure it would be ready for today's three races on the surface.

"We'll attempt to run on the turf as long as it is judged safe by the jockeys to do so," Raffetto said. "We know it will be cut up and we'll have to replace divots between races, but we feel an obligation for the Maryland Million."

As for the dirt track, Raffetto said the surface, which is about 90 percent sand and 10 percent silt and clay, never gets too wet to race.

Today's race will be the first for Presidentialaffair on Laurel's new dirt surface, but he is 2-2-1 overall in bad weather and holds the track record at Monmouth Park in the mud.

Overall, Presidentialaffair has finished in the money 18 times in 25 starts, including 10 wins.

"He's consistent," Ciresa said. "If he feels good, he'll run good. And I'd love to see him win this Classic. It's important to me for him. He's a good horse and deserves to be recognized. We feel obligated to do everything we can for him to get him ready to run his best."

It will be particularly special for Ciresa if Presidentialaffair finds his way to the winner's circle because the horse has been struggling since finishing third in the Pimlico Special in May.

"I believe he hurt himself in that race, but it took a long time to diagnose what was wrong," said Ciresa, who learned in August his horse had a high suspensory knot, a tightening of tendons, ligaments and suspensions behind his left knee.

"Most horses when they have trouble, they `tell' you where the problem is," Ciresa said. "But this horse is so tough, he doesn't tell you anything. He gives you everything he's got every time he leaves the stall. Every day is a fight to him. Every day he wants to battle - the pony, the rider, the track."

That never-quit attitude tipped Ciresa that something beyond the horse's usual ailments was wrong as he failed to compete well in either the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs (Grade I, in which he finished eighth) or in a Grade III stakes at Monmouth Park (fourth).

Today, the 6-year-old son of Not For Love will have to prove himself the best in a seven-horse field.

Among the competitors are Aggadan, the 6-year-old Carnivalay horse who lost last year by 1 1/2 lengths, and Cherokee's Boy, the 5-year-old sired by Citidancer who won three stakes this summer and also has the experience of having run in the 2003 Preakness.

Ciresa said he thinks today's 20th anniversary races are particularly important to Maryland-based competitors because of the turmoil over the state's racing future.

"They're not heading in the right direction - through no fault of their own," Ciresa said. "They're surrounded by states with slots that pay more money and they're being left behind.

"I remember when I was younger and growing up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, if you had horses it was such a big deal to come to Maryland and win. It was hard to win. People said, `Don't go to Maryland' because there were too many good trainers and too many good horses."

Ciresa said he chose to come to the Maryland Million instead of taking his horse to the $500,000 Meadowlands Breeders' Cup because the Laurel track surface is well maintained and fair to the horses and because "it is still special to win in Maryland."

Especially on Million Day, when the best Maryland-sired horses are running.

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