ONE IN MILLION: McKay, like his race, is something special

Sun Staff

What Jim McKay has contributed to Maryland racing should be set in bronzeso it can be recognized and preserved for perpetuity. No ulterior motive isinvolved. That's not his style. This is a man with a deep love for the gameand a willingness to give abundantly, without compensation, of his intellect,imagination and abilities.

McKay didn't come in on a load of coal. He's a "gentleman's gentleman,"besides being that rare mix of an individual whose personal qualities arecommensurate with his professional qualifications, which rates as praise inboth directions. Although attention and status have come to him, via ABC-TV's"Wide World of Sports," the rewards haven't altered his humble ways.

The goodness of McKay should be known and applauded. It was his idea thatled to the establishment of the "Maryland Million," a promotion that upgradesthe thoroughbred industry to a new level of acceptability and has caused otherstates, such as California, West Virginia, Ohio and New Mexico, to utilize asimilar pattern.

Where did the concept originate? How did McKay decide it would be such aviable factor for Maryland? It could be a long, boring story but that's notthe McKay way. "I was coming home from the first Breeders' Cup, in California,1984, and after I got through reading a book, I put it down and said to my,wife, Margaret, 'Wouldn't it be wonderful if something along the lines of theBreeders' Cup could be established in Maryland?'

"It was a casual remark but with Margaret there's no such thing as acasual remark. She thought a moment and answered, 'Why don't you do it?' NextI went to Billy Boniface, the trainer, and he liked it. Then I heard all thereasons why it was impossible and was told to delay it. But if you postpone asuggestion it usually doesn't happen."

Well, on Sunday, the Maryland Million plays Pimlico again. This will bethe sixth renewal and, in this comparatively brief time, it has approached, inpublic acceptance, the International and Pimlico Special, two long establishedevents. Last year, the Maryland Million drew in excess of 20,000 spectators,contributing to a 10-race handle of $2.4 million. Two weeks later, on aSunday, with 12 races offered, the total mutuel figure came to $1.5 million,which underlines in a financial way what McKay has achieved.

Seven corporations are sponsoring races, including Budweiser, FirstNational Bank of Maryland, Crown Central, USAir, Baltimore's AuthorizedMercedes-Benz Dealer, Ryland Homes and the state of Maryland. Other businessesare involved with substantial contributions and 20 hospitality tents willconstitute "infield city" -- which emphasizes the Maryland Million is not justanother day at the races.

When the effort is measured against the time and dedication McKay putsforth, is there enough satisfaction to justify all this relentless work? "Yes,and the pleasure is tremendous," he answers. "The tough part for me when itstarted was getting sponsors. That's a side of sports where I was neverinvolved. I'm basically shy and even feel it's almost an imposition to call uppeople and ask them to play golf. I just have to crank up my nerve."

McKay, never one to stand around looking to take a bow, praises thecommittee he's a part of, meaning Geoffrey Huguely, Katherine Voss, BillBoniface, J.W.Y. Martin Jr., Richard Wilcke, Cricket Goodall, Joseph Kelly,David Hayden, King Leatherbury, Bob Manfuso, Michael Pons and Richards Rolapp.In the five previous runnings of the Maryland Million, 85 state stallions havesent their sons and daughters to the post.

"I think we would easily do $3 million in wagering in late September, orOctober, but since we want to be on network television [ESPN], it's necessaryto hold it on a Sunday, rather than a Saturday, because of the crowdednational sports schedule," McKay explains. "This year, for the first time,we'll have a steeplechase event on the card, which is as it should be, sincethat's such a significant part of Maryland racing."

All McKay wants is for Marylanders to turn out and take pride in watching"their horses run" and for it to be an enjoyable afternoon. The day makes anextraordinary financial impact on the thoroughbred business, creating anexceptional pay day for the track it wouldn't otherwise have, plus the valuereceived by breeders, nominators, owners, trainers and others.

Jim McKay, strictly a volunteer, has made an enormous effort. All becausehe listened to his wife on a plane ride home when she took literally what heintended as a "casual" remark.

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