The 94-year-old owner shook hands from his wheelchair in the winner's circle at Laurel Park, pleased with his horse's performance. Arnold "Arnie" Heft had just watched Eighttofasttocatch win the $150,000 Maryland Million Classic.
"Racing has been great for me. It's keeping me going right now," said Heft, who owns Eighttofasttocatch with his wife, Sylvia, and is a former co-owner of the Washington Bullets and Capitals, a longtime NBA referee and a former Orioles minor league player.
Eighttofasttocatch backed up his 2-5 morning favorite status by winning the Maryland Million Classic on Saturday. His jockey, Forest Boyce, said last week that she expected the chestnut gelding to handle the rail position well in the seven-horse field.
Heft thanked her after the race, pulling his oxygen tube out of the way as he brought her in for a hug.
"I thanked [Boyce] very much. We had lost riders," he said. "This young gal did a helluva job and did exactly what we thought and hoped she would do."
Trainer Tim Keefe said he specifically had the Maryland Million Classic in mind while preparing Eighttofasttocatch, who won in 2011 but finished fifth in 2012. The 7-year-old son of Not for Love (who sired 10 stallions at the event) has earned 11 of his 13 wins at Laurel.
"Maryland Million day is our biggest day," Keefe said. "Most people would say Preakness, but for me, Maryland is our biggest day."
Dale Capuano was the other big winner of the day, tying King Leatherbury's all-time trainer record of 10 victories at the Maryland Million. The owner of 31 Maryland training titles, Capuano trailed by one win to start.
When Monster Sleeping won the $125,000 Special Olympics Maryland Million Ladies, after morning line odds of 8-1, the record was tied.
"We had been preparing for this race quite a while," Capuano said. "She usually breaks well, and today she broke sharp and raced like we hoped she would. We put a lot of time and effort into getting her ready, and it paid off today."
Maryland's winningest trainer, Leatherbury lost sole ownership of the Maryland Million record and his fan-favorite horse barely missed breaking another record at Laurel Park.
Ben's Cat, a brown gelding with earnings of $1,695,640 entering the day, lost the $125,000 Maryland Million Turf by a neck to late-charger Roadhog. If he had won, he would have become the first four-time winner at the Maryland Million.
"He raced well, but this distance is really not his best," Leatherbury said. "That's all."
The Ellendale Racing-bred Roadhog carried Kendrick Carmouche to the photo finish, lunging past Ben's Cat on the very last stretch of the one-mile course.
"I wanted to sit on the rail and wait for Ben's Cat to make his move at the eighth pole," Carmouche said. "Once that happened, I knew I could run him down because my horse has a better kick going longer."
When asked if any of his horses had a chance for Maryland Horse of the Year, Capuano said it wasn't likely, giving props to Leatherbury's millionaire horse.
"Not as long as Ben's Cat is still running," Capuano said. "I hope [he doesn't retire]. Ben's Cat is great for the game."
The Maryland Million drew an announced 18,036, despite brisk temperatures and an afternoon drizzle. More than $2.2 million was wagered on the 11-race card.
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