If you'd had an extra two bucks to wager last Saturday at the MarylandMillion, you couldn't have gone wrong betting on Jim McKay. He just keptrunning.
At age 75, a year and a half removed from open-heart, single-bypasssurgery, McKay galloped through the weekend like a young colt. Take a deepbreath and consider:
Early Friday evening he served as host of the Maryland Million Gala at theBaltimore Country Club. Then he raced across town to Oriole Park at CamdenYards to cheer on the Orioles, of whom he and his wife, Margaret, own a smallpart.
He spent Saturday at Laurel Park for the 11th annual Maryland Million, hisbrainchild for celebrating the state's thoroughbred breeding industry. ThenSaturday night he darted back into the city for another Orioles-Yankeesshowdown.
On Sunday, after Mass, at which perhaps he prayed for strength, McKayattended the final Orioles playoff game. And finally on Monday, he truckedback to Laurel, a 75-minute drive from home in Monkton, to watch his wife'shorse, Little Hurt, run the first race of his career.
"I really wish everything hadn't been so jammed together," McKay saidThursday on his car phone in the midst of a schedule every bit as full as lastweekend's.
It seemed silly to ask such a vibrant, busy man about his health. ButMcKay, a well-known TV sportscaster, is used to silly questions.
"I feel terrific," he said. "I've never felt better."
Well maybe he might feel a little better if Little Hurt hadn't finishedseventh in Monday's debut. The 2-year-old son of Broad Brush seemed moreinterested in trying to bite his opposition than in winning the race. McKaysaid the colt's trainer, Bill Boniface, might experiment with blinkers nexttime. A last option is gelding the nicely bred colt.
McKay explained the origin of the name. He took his 14-year-old grandson,James Fontelieu, to an Orioles-White Sox game a couple of years ago. James,then 12, met White Sox superstar Frank Thomas.
"Standing there looking up at this immense man," McKay recalled, "[James]said: 'I know they call you Big Hurt. I just thought you'd like to know thaton my Little League team they call me Little Hurt."
Big day for Wilson
Rick Wilson celebrated a pretty nice Maryland Million Day, too. He won the$100,000 Maryland Million Lassie aboard the Ben Perkins-trained Lovely Tasha.It was Wilson's first victory since returning to work Oct. 8 after suffering abroken neck in a June 2 spill at Monmouth Park.
Lovely Tasha was something of a long shot. She paid $23.80 to win. Theodds against Wilson, 43, riding horses again -- at least riding them again sosoon -- were longer.
"Even the doctor was surprised," Wilson said this week after a day ofriding at Laurel Park. "Everything's been great. Knock on wood."
The injury occurred when Wilson's mount "snapped a leg" and "slammed meheadfirst into the ground," he said. Eight days later, surgeons at Johns Hopkins Hospital fused two vertebrae in his neck. A bone chip in his spinecaused lingering numbness in his right arm, but he has regained all feeling.
"It comes with the territory," Wilson said matter-of-factly. "If you ridelong enough, you're going to get hurt."
Wilson has ridden since he was 12, and he's been hurt plenty, includingbroken vertebrae, elbow, ankle, shoulders and leg.
He started with quarter-horse match races in Oklahoma fields. At 16, hebegan riding in official quarter-horse races, and at 19 he switched tothoroughbreds.
After riding primarily in Arkansas, Kentucky, New Jersey, Maryland andFlorida, Wilson has won 3,850 races for earnings of $48 million. He wasleading jockey nine times at Philadelphia Park, four times at Garden State andonce at Monmouth Park.
But his greatest thrills were races he didn't win: the 1984 Kentucky Derbyaboard Raja's Shark, who finished 14th at 59-1 odds, and the 1993 Derby aboardStorm Tower, who finished 16th at 9-1 after leading for more than half therace.
A resident of Sykesville, he is married with four children.
"I still enjoy it," he said of his work. "I'm going to keep going until Ican't do it anymore."
The Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday may not be Cigar's grand finaleafter all.
"I'm not guaranteeing that it will be his last race of the year," ownerAllen E. Paulson said Thursday during a conference call with turf writers. "Istill think he has the ability to win the Breeders' Cup and others races."
Paulson wouldn't say which races, but surely one possibility is a proposedmatch race with Helissio, recent winner of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.Helissio's owner, Enrique Sarasola, telephoned Paulson this week suggestingthe race.
"The deal is for a match race on neutral soil, and on dirt," Paulson wasquoted as saying in the Daily Racing Form. "They proposed Japan, because youcan get 200,000 people to come and see the race. And they're talking bignumbers for a purse, something like $5 million each.
"I told them I'd talk to them after the Classic."
Slots people have gall
Talk about a slap in the face. A billboard on the JFX sprouted last week,declaring: "Only 90 Minutes Dover Downs Slots! Rt. 13 Dover, DE." And the signis a mere 1 1/2 miles south of the Pimlico exit.
Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, which ownsPimlico and Laurel, has talked for months about the threat to Maryland horseracing of slot machines at Delaware tracks. And now a billboard advertisingslots sits in his own back yard.
Richard Murchison, vice president of marketing for Dover Downs, a harnesstrack, said the billboard is one of eight recently erected at various spotsaround Baltimore. And more billboards are slotted. This one's proximity toPimlico "was just coincidental," he said.
For the first 9 1/2 months of this year when Dover Downs offered 500 slotmachines, Murchison said, "they were so well-received by the public thatfrequently people couldn't get a machine." But now that the track has 1,000machines, he said, "we're targeting the Baltimore-Annapolis-Washington area."
Since the machines began operating Dec. 29 at Delaware tracks, patronshave poured in more than $1.5 billion. (That is not a misprint. That's $1.5billion.)
Full slate at Laurel
Post time at Laurel Park for Saturday's Breeders' Cup Day is 11: 45 a.m.The track will offer a normal slate of live races, featuring the Grade III,$100,000 Laurel Dash, plus the seven Breeders' Cup races from Woodbine. The $4million Classic features Cigar, attempting to become the first back-to-backClassic winner.