Two-year-olds are often obscured on the Maryland Million program. The babies are usually among the first to compete, and by the time darkness threatens, their elders have stolen the show.
Not that good horses can't come from the $100,000 Maryland Lassie, for fillies, or the $100,000 Maryland Nursery, for colts and geldings. And when the sixth renewal of the Million is held Sunday at Pimlico Race Course, a future star could unveil itself.
Trainer Ben Perkins Jr., who will send out North Carroll for owner Virginia Wright in the Nursery, yesterday summed up the feelings of owners and trainers involved in the 2-year-old races. "We're hoping," said Perkins.
Entries will be drawn, and post positions assigned, this morning at Pimlico for the Million. In the likely event that more than 12 are entered in either 2-year-old race, total career earnings will decide which horses get to run.
In the Million's brief history, the Lassie has been a better producer of eventual standouts than its male counterpart.
In 1987, Thirty Eight Go Go won the Lassie, a precursor to a career in which she earned nearly $1 million and won a Grade I stakes. And in 1988, Open Mind and Safely Kept finished 2-3, respectively, in the Lassie (behind Ms. Gold Pole); both became Eclipse Award winners.
Perkins said Coolin It, the solid favorite in the Nursery, "has to be the one to beat, but I've got to think we have a shot. Our horse ran in good time [1 minute, 11 1/5 seconds], and the horse he beat seems legitimate [Sticks and Bricks]."
Coolin It is unbeaten in two career starts, including a convincing victory in the Rollicking Stakes at Laurel Race Course in his last race.
Perkins was third in victories among trainers at the Laurel summer meet, a noteworthy feat if only because it was done with a reduced stable. His other horses were in action at Monmouth Park, where he was the leading percentage trainer.
"We've moved the Monmouth Park horses back to Bowie [Training Center]," he said. "We have about 35 at Laurel and 24 at Bowie.
Since he began racing in Maryland on a regular basis last year, Perkins, along with Carlos Garcia and Bernie Bond, has moved into the circuit's elite as a trainer of 2-year-olds. North Carroll will be his first Maryland Million starter. Then he'll saddle Gold Rolls in the $50,000 Maryland Handicap and Long Walk in the last of 11 races, the $100,000 Maryland Oaks.
Bond, meanwhile, has one of the Lassie favorites in Gala Gold Digger, owned by Gertrude and Skip Leviton. The daughter of Rollicking is 2-for-3 lifetime, her only defeat coming to another Lassie favorite, Good Looking Terri, in the Smart Angle Stakes at Laurel Aug. 4.
"She's a hard-trying filly, but she's not the soundest in the world," said Bond. "I put blinkers for a work [yesterday] and she went [four furlongs] in 47 and 2 [47 2/5 seconds]. I don't know if the blinkers will help, but it's worth a try."
Bond said his experience on Million day has been limited to "one or two that didn't have much shot. Mr. Leviton is my only owner that really has many Maryland-sired horses."
Gala Gold Digger has at least one thing going for her. With five winners, Rollicking is the leading sire on Million day.