Play Bingo hits Million jackpot

4-year-old rallies from nearly 20 lengths back for victory over Aggadan in Classic

Horse racing


F. Eugene Dixon and his wife, Edith, were in their living room yesterday at Erdenheim Farm, just outside of Philadelphia, watching the Maryland Million on television.

They saw their horse Play Bingo coming down the backstretch in the $250,000 Maryland Million Classic nearly 20 lengths behind the field.

"Edie looked at me and said, `Well, that's the end of that!'" Dixon said.

But to their amazement and to that of many others, including trainer John Fisher, who had never seen his 4-year-old trail a field before, jockey Ryan Fogelsonger had the horse exactly where he wanted him.

"I just tried to be patient as long as I could," Fogelsonger said. "When we got to the half-mile pole I just kind of kicked him a little to start picking it up and from the three-eighths pole on, he just started roaring by them."

Play Bingo and Fogelsonger put on a stunning stretch drive that earned him a one-length victory over Aggadan, who finished second in the Classic for the third straight time. Five Steps finished third. Presidentialaffair, who won the Classic last year, was fourth.

"I'm thoroughly thrilled," said Dixon, who has been in the racing business and supporting Maryland racing for more than 50 years, when reached by phone. "Ryan Fogelsonger did a beautiful job."

Dixon, a commissioner on the Pennsylvania State Racing Commission, was delighted to have won the biggest race on the program for Maryland-sired horses. He stables Play Bingo at Fair Hill, and the horse's ties to the state go back to Dark Hollow Farm in Upperco, where he was bred and foaled by David Hayden and William Beatson.

The race, in which Play Bingo was the third favorite, paying $12, $4.60 and $3.00, was the highlight in a day of highlights at Maryland Million Day. The 20th running of Maryland's celebration of state-sired horses had been delayed a week because of rainfall of more than seven inches last weekend, but yesterday couldn't have been more perfect. A brilliant sun made the turf course firm and the dirt course solid. A crowd of 21,653 turned out to enjoy the breezy afternoon and combined with bettors around the country to set a Maryland Million Day record for live card wagering at $5,049,426, surpassing the 2004 figure of $4,642,444.

And as the sun hurried toward sunset in the Classic, the field of six horses kicked up dust swinging through the first turn. It was a scene Fogelsonger and Pay Bingo saw and felt on their faces as they trailed the pack.

In the stands, Fisher couldn't believe his eyes, as he saw his horse fall farther and farther behind.

"I was shocked when I saw him coming down the backstretch," he said. "I thought Ryan was having trouble with his mental clock. Play Bingo has never been that far back. Never been a trail-the-field horse. I couldn't even watch."

Fogelsonger, one of the most respected jockeys at Laurel Park, had just returned to riding Friday after suffering his third concussion of the year in a racing spill last Sunday.

Fisher said he had a concern about using Fogelsonger before the race because of his recent injury. But the jockey told him he wouldn't ride if he wasn't 100 percent and, Fisher said, "I figured he's a top rider, he knows what he's doing. But in the competitive world, I also know every jockey wants to get on a good, competitive horse."

Fogelsonger simply smiled, "He [Play Bingo] was just nice and relaxed."

Play Bingo hadn't won in nearly a year. But Fisher thought he was training well. Even though he hadn't had strong finishes in his previous two races, Fisher believed if the horse was handled right he had a very good chance in this 1 3/16th-mile race. The reason for the optimism was that Play Bingo tended to get very aggressive if taken too close to the front of the fields too early and lacks a finishing kick.

How he would react as a trailer was anyone's guess. But in the paddock, Fisher had opened the door to the plan by telling Fogelsonger to take the son of Polish Numbers "back a bit" - though he hadn't said all the way back to the farm.

"I had told him to switch him off early in the race, to keep him off the bit for awhile and then, when he was ready, say `Go!' and he'd go," Fisher said. "He has a lot of gas. The last three-eighths was very fast. But this horse has never come from that far back.

"But what do I know, I'm just the trainer. After watching this race, maybe that's the way to run him."

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