Due's trainer seeks repeat from No. 3 post

Five Steps favored to beat 2006 champ in Md. Million Classic

Horse racing

October 09, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Reporter

A strong 10-horse field is set to go to post in Saturday's $300,000 Maryland Million Classic, the highlight of a 12-race card celebrating Maryland stallions and their offspring.

Due, the winner of the Classic in 2006, got the No. 3 post at yesterday's draw at Laurel Park. Trainer Dale Capuano said the post would suit the 6-year-old gelding sired by Rinka Das very well.

"I think he drew No. 3 last year, too," Capuano said. "It was good luck for us then and we hope it will be again. But Due likes to come from behind, so the post doesn't really matter."

Even as Maryland thoroughbred racing has struggled to keep up with the competition as neighboring states support their racing programs with slot machine revenue, Maryland Million Day has remained an exciting celebration for the sport.

Started 22 years ago as the brainchild of sportscaster Jim McKay, Maryland Million Day is the second most popular day of racing in Maryland, behind only the Preakness.

As a sign of its impact, the day has been replicated in 25 other states.

This year, the Maryland Million program will award purses totaling $1.7 million. And fans who come will not only see 120 starters sired by Maryland stallions, but also have a chance to watch some of the best jockeys in the country compete, including Ramon Dominguez, Mario Pino and Jeremy Rose.

"If we get a day bright and sunny like this and just a little cooler, we might get a record crowd," breeder Mike Pons said. "I know a lot of my guys [owners] are itching to get to the races. Gary Stute, who has the Malibu Moon colt Frank The Barber, shipped in from California last week. He's already had a workout here.

"It's pretty neat. The colt was sold at Timonium, and now he's coming home for Maryland Million Day."

Frank The Barber will run in the Classic. He is a 3-year-old and has been given 4-1 odds by Maryland Jockey Club racing analyst and handicapper Frank Carulli, making him the second choice behind Five Steps.

Five Steps, sired by Yarrow Brae, will start from post No. 1 with morning-line odds of 2-1. He is trained by Chris Grove and is 3-for-3 since returning from a 20-month injury-forced absence. His last race before being sidelined was the 2005 Classic in which Grove said he was unlucky and finished second to Play Bingo.

Play Bingo, son of Polish Numbers, will start from the No. 4 post.

Due is the third choice at 9-2 and winless in three starts this year. But his owner, Bob Haynes of Potomac, is confident. He claimed the gelding at Pimlico three years ago for $25,000. Since then, the horse has won $287,260. Last year in the Classic, he upset Cherokee's Boy to win.

"He touches my heart more than any of my other horses," Haynes said. "And we've been pointing for this race since this race last year. The distance, 1 3/16ths, suits him. It's a distance that is tough for most horses to run."

Silmaril is the headliner in the Distaff, where she hopes to become the fifth three-time winner of a Maryland Million race. In the Starter Handicap, trainer Linda Albert said she believes her defending champion, Off The Glass, will enjoy starting in the No. 5 post. "It's a nice middle position," she said. "We're thrilled with the draw for all three of our horses."

Moon Catcher, a Grade II winner sired by Malibu Moon, will see if he can live up to his billing as a prohibitive favorite in the Oaks. And there's always interest in the Nursery and the Lassie, for 2-year-old males and fillies, respectively, who could become stars.

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

Maryland Million Day

What: Maryland's day at the races, which honors Maryland sires and their offspring.

When: Saturday

Time: First post at 12:15 p.m.

Where: Laurel Park

TV: Ch. 54 and MASN, 4 p.m.

Outlook: In its 22nd year, Maryland Million Day is the oldest event of its kind and has spurned the birth of similar programs in 25 other states. This year, the Maryland Million program will dispense purses totaling more than $1.7 million over the 12-race card. The highlight of the afternoon is the $300,000 Maryland Million Classic, a $300,000 race for 3-year-olds and up over 1 3/16 miles on Laurel's main, dirt track. This year, the race features two past winners, Due (2006) and Play Bingo (2005), and 2005 runner-up Five Steps, who is unbeaten since returning from a 20-month injury layoff. Also among the 10 entries is Frank The Barber, a primed 3-year-old who has been shipped in from California's Santa Anita Park.

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