Mz. Zill Bear is back.
After three consecutive losses as a heavily bet favorite, there was some question if the Maryland-bred champion, who had spent most of the winter leisurely jogging through the pines of Camden, S.C., still had the zest to win.
But despite her string of 1995 defeats, the bettors showed once again yesterday that they hadn't lost faith in the 6-year-old mare.
They bet her down to 2-1 favorite in the $75,000 All Brandy Stakes, Laurel Park's closing day feature that was marked by the unexpected scratch of another state-bred champion, Calipha.
This time, Mz. Zill Bear didn't let down the fans.
Even though she was wedged in tight quarters in the backstretch, the Ron Cartwright-trained mare responded by extending her fluid, daisy-cutting stride once jockey Steve Hamilton found running room in the stretch.
She caught pacesetter, Suspect Terrain, who was on the verge of stealing the race, at about the sixteenth pole and won by 1 3/4 lengths. Suspect Terrain carried an added burden in the race. She is 50 days pregnant to top sire, Kris S.
Mz. Zill Bear's time for 1 1/8 miles on the turf was 1 minute, 48 seconds, a stakes record.
"She was off just too long, especially since there was nothing wrong with her," Cartwright said. "She should have been back to me on Jan. 1, but instead didn't return [from the Carolinas] until April 1. She's getting older now and it's taking her longer to come around."
But Bill and Phyllis Dixon, the mare's owners, wanted the horse, who has earned over $600,000 for them, to have a long rest and are undecided if she'll race again next year. The immediate goal is the Oct. 14 Maryland Million Ladies Stakes, which Mz. Zill Bear has won the last two years.
It's the same race trainer Bud Delp wants to win with Calipha. He gave officials no reason yesterday when he put in a scratch for the filly.
Cartwright was a winner on two fronts yesterday.
Immediately before the All Brandy, he sprinted to the Laurel TV sets to watch the simulcast of the Tyro Stakes at Monmouth Park. Despite being left at the gate, the winner was the undefeated Maryland-bred 2-year-old, Foolish Pole, a son of the state's new sire sensation, Polish Numbers.
Before the Tyro, a bloodstock agent approached Cartwright and offered him $75,000 for his share in the stallion. It's a tidy profit since Cartwright paid $17,500 for a 1/40th interest in the stallion a few years ago. After the Tyro, he seemed disinclined to sell.
Laurel ended its summer meet with mixed results. Despite an increase in field size, the amount wagered on the track's live product at Maryland betting outlets declined 19.5 percent from 1994. However, overall betting, including simulcasts, is showing about a 6 percent increase from a year ago and track operator Joe De Francis said there is still about a $1 million surplus in Pimlico/Laurel's purse account. He expects to be able to offer purse bonuses through the end of the year. Like other areas, simulcasting is proving to be the lifeblood of state tracks.
On the plus side, the Maryland signal is attracting unprecedented action at out-of-state wagering sites. Handle on the Laurel live races showed an increase of 65 percent over a year ago and out-of-state fans are betting almost as much on the Maryland card as fans in-state.
Graham Motion, 31, made a big move on perennial leader, King Leatherbury, in the trainer standings. Each saddled 14 winners, ending in a tie for the title.
Mark Johnston bested Larry Reynolds by six wins to lead all jockeys, but Mario Pino won the most stakes, scoring in four added-money races.