Million to run another Day

Threat of flooding at Laurel Park a factor as officials decide early to push card to Saturday

Horse racing


HORSE RACING For the first time in the 20-year history of Maryland Million Day the event was postponed yesterday because of the threat of flooding.

With parts of the parking lots at Laurel Park already flooded early yesterday morning, Maryland Jockey Club chief operating officer Lou Raffetto made the announcement after consulting with MJC racing secretary Georganne Hale, Maryland Million officials and Robby Minter, the Laurel turf superintendent.

"We couldn't have run on the turf, there would have been short fields in many of the races and a lot of people wouldn't have been able to get here," Raffetto said. "We already had 6 1/2 inches of rain by 10 a.m., with as much as three more inches predicted."

The Maryland Million Day, a celebration of Maryland-sired offspring that annually attracts crowds of more than 20,000, has been rescheduled for next Saturday, with post time at 12:15 p.m.

The start will be 20 minutes earlier than usual to make sure an earlier sunset or an overcast sky does not run the races scheduled for the late afternoon into darkness.

The Grade III, $150,000 Safely Kept Breeders' Cup race originally scheduled for next Saturday will now be run next Sunday, Oct. 16.

"It is pretty unusual to do something like this," said Cricket Goodall, executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.

"We've only ever had rain one other time, and that was on the 10th anniversary. But with the combination of flood warnings and the condition of the track, who knows what might have happened? It was the right call."

Yesterday, Raffetto said the turf course would have been unusable and the dirt course would have been sloppy, though it had a very good bottom.

"It would have been safe," he said. "But a lot of horses have issues with sloppy tracks, and a lot of owners wouldn't have shipped. It would have decimated the card."

The last time racing in Maryland was canceled because of rain was when Hurricane Isabel blew through in September 2003.

The Maryland Million Day starting fields could look different by Saturday. Trainer Ben Feliciano, who had a high of five entries, said he hopes to have all his horses back in the lineup.

"With the way horse racing is right now, we need all the fans we can get," Feliciano said. "It would have been a miserable day for everybody. It was a good call.

"The only thing I'm upset about is that I had good post positions for my horses, and now we'll have to draw again. ... Hopefully, we'll be as lucky next week."

There will be a new post draw Wednesday at 11 a.m., and all 145 horses pre-entered prior to last week's draw are again eligible.

"We can't make any assumptions," Raffetto said. "Some horses that were pre-entered that couldn't make this week might be able to make next week. Everyone who pre-entered will have another opportunity."

Raffetto said he is "extremely disappointed" he had to postpone the Million, but added, "We would not have done it justice by conducting racing on a day like this, and our decision has been universally received as the right thing to have done."

The decision was made just after 7 a.m., and by 7:30 the news was being broadcast over loudspeakers in the stable areas at Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course and the Bowie Training Center.

"We heard it loud and clear," said trainer Chris Grove, who has his four Maryland Million Day horses stabled at Bowie.

"I've got a couple, including Lexi Star in the third, that are good in mud. And we've run in worse. But we're used to days being canceled for weather - snow, wind, cold. And when you involve this much of the public, you've got to do what's best for everyone. I'm sure the parking lots and the outdoor stands were flooded."

Local radio stations made the postponement the lead story on their morning newscasts, and officials at Laurel were on the phones to trainers outside the area, preventing as many as possible from needlessly shipping their horses to the drenched race track.

"They were just a little too late for me," said Philadelphia Park trainer Marty Ciresa.

Ciresa's horses, Sum Marval, who was to run in the $50,000 Starter Handicap, the second race of the day, and Presidentialaffair, the favorite in the 10th race, the $250,000 Maryland Million Classic, had left their lodgings around 6 a.m. They were nearly to Laurel when Ciresa got the call a little after 8.

"They tried to get to me in time," Ciresa said. "But we had a horse in the second race, so we left early. It's not a big deal. They turned around and came home. I'm hoping we'll be back next weekend. Presidentialaffair is feeling awfully good right now. It will be our job to regroup and have him just as ready for next week."

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