In the fall of 1991, a 4-year-old bay colt named Polish Numbers, boasting one of the most desirable pedigrees in the American Stud Book, first set foot on Maryland soil.
But the son of the country's leading sire, Danzig, out of the champion filly Numbered Account, was still essentially a former racehorse nursing an injured ankle.
He was set to be bred to his first group of mares in the spring, but his future was as uncertain as his ankle.
Now 8, Polish Numbers is the most valuable thorough bred in Maryland.
As late as last month, the horse's owners, a syndicate headed by Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City and managed by Richard Golden, turned down an offer of $6 million from Japanese interests for the horse.
"And since then, we've turned down even more," Golden said. "What we've done now is said unequivocally that this horse is off the market and is standing the 1996 breeding season in Maryland. I hope we're making the right decision."
What has made Polish Numbers so valuable?
On Saturday, one of Polish Numbers' offspring, Count On Numbers, will be heavily favored to win the $100,000 Maryland Million Nursery and establish himself as the leader among state-bred 2-year-old colts.
"I'm not scared of anybody," the horse's trainer, Carlos Garcia, said about the opposition in the Nursery. "They're going to have to come get me."
In addition to Count On Numbers, Polish Numbers has sired what stallion authorities term three other "superior runners" -- Foolish Pole, Forever Pals and Bug River. For various reasons, they are skipping the Million, but all in all, from the 41 foals in Polish Numbers' first crop, he has sired 12 starters, eight winners and four superior runners.
His offspring's earnings of $326,739 rank him second only to 1991 Pimlico Special winner Farma Way as the nation's leading freshman sire.
Among those trailing Polish Numbers as a sire with their first offspring at the track are a Preakness winner, Summer Squall; a sprint champion, Housebuster, and two Breeders' Cup winners, Black Tie Affair and Prized.
Golden said he is going to wait until after Saturday's race to officially set Polish Numbers' 1996 stud fee. For the first three years, the fee was $3,500 per mare. "It will at least be $15,000 [for each mare] next year," he said. "And we've got a list five pages long of people who want to breed to him."
Nearly as impressive is another young Maryland sire, Citidancer, who ranks fifth in the country among second crop sires.
His sons and daughters figure to have an even better Maryland Million than the offspring of Polish Numbers.
Citidancer is not only the sire of 3-year-old filly sensation Urbane, likely to be the odds-on favorite in the Oaks, but also of 2-year-old filly Mystic Rhythms, who is the horse to beat in the Lassie.
Mystic Rhythms is the lone stakes winner in the bulky Lassie field. One of the horses, Tipically Irish, that she beat last month in her native New Jersey was flown to the West Coast last weekend and won the Grade I Oak Leaf Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Santa Anita Park.
Citidancer's manager, Josh Pons of Country Life Farm in Bel Air, said that he's gratified Citidancer is turning out to be more than "a one-horse sire" after the success of Urbane, ranked among the nation's leading fillies for the past two years.
"Citidancer has had eight 2-year-old winners this year," Pons said. "One of his yearlings, a colt named Latin Dancer, recently sold for $210,000 at the Timonium auctions. And if she wins Saturday, Mystic Rhythms might be the only Maryland Million winner to run in the Breeders' Cup."
The horse's breeder, Sandra Van Kirk, confirmed yesterday that John Rotella, who owns Mystic Rhythms, is considering running her Oct. 28 in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile fillies stakes if she wins in the Million.
Million When: Saturday
Post time: 12:30 p.m.
Where: Laurel Park
Program: 10 Flat races, eight on dirt, two on turf, and one steeplechase
Feature: The $200,000 Maryland Million Classic, the 10th race. Approximate post time is 5:20 p.m.
Total purses: $1 million
Horses: Only offspring of Maryland stallions are eligible. A total of 145 horses have been entered, including Grade I winners Urbane and Prenup
TV: HTS, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Tickets: Reserved seating is available and can be obtained by calling Laurel at (301) 725-0400.