It is the battle of the bloodlines, Maryland style.
More is at stake in the Maryland Million today than winning bets or purses earned by the horses and jockeys. It is the one day of the year in Maryland racing when the stud farms that produce the runners take center stage.
All of the thoroughbreds racing on today's card at Laurel Race Course are offspring of Maryland stallions. It was designed that way by founder Jim McKay, who wanted to promote horse breeding in the state by staging Maryland's own version of the Breeders' Cup.
Today's program becomes a race within a race: which farm or stallion will produce the most winners?
When Rollicking, now deceased, scored with four winners in 1988, it capped his long and illustrious career as a leading Maryland sire.
A total of 50 stallions from 22 different farms have runners in today's eighth Maryland Million, but the contest essentially boils down to a friendly rivalry between two farms: Northview Stallion Station, situated on part of the old Windfields Farm in Chesapeake City, and Country Life Farm in Bel Air.
A total of 115 runners are expected to compete today -- 40 of
them, or about one-third, are sired by stallions standing at the two farms.
"We needle each other to death all during the breeding season," said Dr. Tom Bowman, who not only is a partner in Northview with Mrs. Alaire du Pont, Richard Golden and Bob Levy, but is NTC also Country Life's veterinarian.
"From top to bottom, I think we at Northview have the best farm in Maryland, and I feel real proud that our horses have sired so many runners [on today's card]. It depicts the quality of our stallions.
"But Country Life has some good horses, too. Josh [Pons, owner of Country Life] and his family have put everything they've got into their farm and they've gone through some tough times to get where they are. They might be more into how their stallions perform today than I am. I put everything I have into getting all these mares in foal [on both farms] and I just take pride that we have this kind of event in our state. If it could turn out this way, I'd want us to finish in a dead heat [with Country Life] in each race."
The five Northview stallions represented by 25 starters are: Caveat, eight runners including two morning-line favorites, Awad and Bewarned; Baederwood, five starters including Root Boy and Frugal Doc in the featured Classic; and Two Punch, Smarten and Waquoit, all represented by four runners. Each is the sire of a horse like Jest Punching, Smart'n Noble and Canton River, who are among the favorites.
The Country Life lineup includes three stallions represented by 15 runners: Allen's Prospect has eight starters, including Richard's Lass, already a two-time Maryland Million winner; Carnivalay, sire of six runners, including Ameri Valay, who gives Country Life its first chance for a Classic win; and Corridor Key, sire of one starter, Suspect Terrain.
The Pons family vigorously encourages all of its clients to participate in the Maryland Million. "We like to see our stallions well-represented," said Josh Pons. "It's a day when you get a chance to shine in front of the home crowd."
Bowman added: "It's just a shame that there are not more farms represented [with large numbers]."
Green Willow Farm in Westminster and Glade Valley Farm near Frederick each has six past or present stallions represented by 11 runners, and Thornmar Farm in Chestertown has three of its current or former stallions represented by nine starters.
The event is not limited to Maryland-breds, which by definition means that the horse must be foaled in the state. A Maryland Million runner can be foaled anywhere just as long as it is fathered by a Maryland stallion.
Horses are coming from all over the country to compete.
Frigid Coed has been sent from Santa Anita Park in California by her trainer, Brian Mayberry, and about a dozen runners are being shipped in from the New York tracks, including a four-horse contingent owned by Robert Perez, the flamboyant Long Islander who owns this year's third-place Preakness finisher, El Bakan.
Perez has a fondness for the offspring of Allen's Prospect, the sire of all four of his Maryland Million starters.
Other owners with three or more entries: Elaine Bassford, the Mea Culpa Stable of Phyllis and Bill Dixon and John V. Alecci.
Among trainers, King Leatherbury leads the list, sending out six Maryland Million starters, followed by Ron Cartwright, five starters, and four each for Alfredo Callejas and the brothers Dale and Gary Capuano.
What: Eighth running of the Maryland Million, a 12-race card restricted to the offspring of Maryland stallions. Purses total $1 million.
Where: Laurel Race Course
Post time: 12:30 p.m.