Napravnik rides Due to victory

Horse rallies from last in Md. Million Classic

Maryland Million

October 15, 2006|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun reporter

Bob Haynes almost couldn't believe his eyes, as he watched his horse Due come from last place to win the $250,000 Maryland Million Classic.

"People thought I was crazy, but when I claimed Due in 2004, I said, `I want to win a Maryland Million race,'" he said. "I didn't necessarily mean the Classic."

But the Classic suited Due just fine. Jockey Anna "Rosie" Napravnik patiently rated her horse in last place, willing to take the dirt that was thrown in both her face and Due's.

Finally, at the far turn, she moved him out four wide and took control near the eighth-pole. The two then drove home for a 2 1/4 -length victory over Diamond David. Evil Storm was third, and favorite Cherokee's Boy, who led early in the 1 3/16-mile battle before giving way down the stretch, finished a disappointing fifth in the seven-horse field.

Due, sired by Rinka Das, who stood at Corbett Farm in Monkton before moving to Mountain Springs Ranch in Mena, Ark., in 2005, paid $21.80, $8.80 and $12.00. Diamond David returned $16.20 and $22.20, and Evil Storm paid $18.20.

The Classic was the highlight in a day of Maryland Million Day dreams come true.

Celebrating its 21st year, Maryland Million Day, which honors Maryland stallions and the horses they've sired, has also become a battleground for bragging rights among friends, family, neighbors and cross-the-barn-area competitors.

Yesterday, 24,836 fans - the second-largest crowd in its history - came out to enjoy the action and bet $4,897,708 on the 12-race card. That, too, was the second-largest number in history, just behind last year's record of a little over $5 million.

"I claim a lot of horses," said Haynes, 52 and a Potomac resident, who owns Due with Jayne Marie Slysz. "And a horse having Maryland-bred roots help. I'm looking at Maryland Million sires. I was born and raised here and I'm very inspired to run on the biggest day in the biggest races.

"I guess the Preakness is the biggest day in Maryland for racing. But for true Maryland horsemen, the Maryland Million is the real big day."

For Haynes, it was a fairy tale, as he won with his first Million Day entry. Some might have also considered it miraculous.

He claimed the 5-year-old gelding in October 2004 and discovered he had bad quarter cracks in his hooves.

"I have to give my previous trainer, Margaret Slysz, credit," he said. "She worked hard keeping him together. We gave him eight months off to heal. Then I switched to Dale [Capuano] as my trainer and we've been working hard to get him ready for this."

Due finally won for Haynes last April in a $15,000 claiming race at Charles Town, which Capuano and Haynes had decided to use to qualify the horse for a $50,000 Starter Handicap on Million Day.

"He'd had an off race and we took a chance," Capuano said. "We were lucky."

"I was very nervous that night," Haynes said. "I kept thinking he was gone when we were in the winner's circle."

But no one had claimed him.

As it turned out, they were very lucky, given they didn't have to take the claiming risk. Horses sired by Maryland stallions that are at least 3 years old can enter the Classic without meeting any other qualifications.

"We decided on the Classic because of the distance," said Haynes, whose horse had been running races of a mile or better. "We thought the 1 3/16ths suited him. We were hoping the speed would come back to us and it did. ... This is the biggest win in my 30 years in the business. I'm so thrilled it came on Maryland Million Day."

Capuano, whose brother Gary trained favorite Cherokee's Boy, said he was nervous early when the first fractions came up 24.63.

"But Rosie knows this horse and fits him well," Capuano said. "He started moving on the backstretch and I started getting a little happier. I know that Cherokee's Boy didn't run his race today and that really helped us."

Cherokee's Boy, the 6-year-old son of Citidancer, was the heavy betting favorite at 1-5. The brown thoroughbred's owners had announced before the Classic that Cherokee's Boy would be retired to stud at the Maryland Stallion Station after the race.

Over his career, Cherokee's Boy won 19 times in 48 starts and earned a paycheck in all but one race for a total of $1,177,946, including $7,500 yesterday that bumped him to 12th best among Maryland-bred horses.

"It's surprising Cherokee's Boy finished fifth," said David De Pietro, managing partner of the Maryland Stallion Station. "But he's had such a wonderful career. ... His value has already been determined."

Cherokee's Boy's co-owner Dave Picarello took the loss philosophically.

"It has been a great ride," he said. "It is tough to go out this way, but it wasn't his day and this wasn't his typical race. The distance was a question and they didn't give us a break anywhere around the track. He is going on to better things."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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