Vinnie Blengs, the trainer who had waited until the Maryland Million's 10th anniversary to run his first horses in it, shook his head as he saddled Brilliant Patriot for the $200,000 Classic.
"I've never even worked this horse in the mud," Blengs said. "I don't have a clue how he's going to run."
A few minutes later, a drenched Blengs and a mud-splattered jockey Mario Pino stood in the winner's circle after the 4-year-old gray colt had fought off favorites Oliver's Twist and Ameri Valay and scored a three-quarter-length upset over Mary's Buckaroo.
The winner, sent off at 9-1 odds, paid $21.80, the second highest winning payoff for a $2 bet on the 10-race card.
After a decade of runnings, this had turned out to be the first muddy Million.
One race, the steeplechase, was canceled yesterday morning, and by the time of the last race, lightning and thunder startled horses as they were led around the enclosure.
Despite the slop, the program was marked by 50 percent winning favorites, including predictable scores by such aces as Urbane in the Oaks, Count On Numbers in the Nursery, Mystic Rhythms in the Lassie and Mz. Zill Bear in the Ladies.
Preakness runner-up Oliver's Twist failed as the 7-5 favorite in the Classic and finished third, four lengths behind the winner.
"He needed one more race," said jockey Albert Delgado. Trainer Billy Boniface had tried to win the Classic after just one seven-furlong prep with the horse and the heavy going yesterday made the task near impossible.
"He made a nice move to those horses," Delgado said. "But about the sixteenth pole, he started to get tired. "
Last year, trainer King Leatherbury had won the Classic with Taking Risks, a horse he had claimed for $20,000.
This year, Blengs won the Classic with Brilliant Patriot, a horse he claimed from Leatherbury for $25,000 in June.
Among Brilliant Patriot's victims yesterday was his former stablemate, Ameri Valay, who is trained by Leatherbury and as expected, set the pace in the 1-3/16-mile race.
Mark Johnston had a snug hold on Ameri Valay, but the horse couldn't hang on to the lead once Brilliant Patriot passed him at the top of the stretch. Ameri Valay faded to fourth in his fourth losing Million effort.
On the final turn, Mario Verge made a gutsy move on Mary's Buckaroo. Verge quickly swung his horse to the inside and gained a short-lived advantage on the rail. But he couldn't overtake Brilliant Patriot.
Blengs said one of his owners, Lawrence Pomerantz, a New York stockbroker, is responsible for claiming Brilliant Patriot.
Brilliant Patriot, a son of the Leatherbury-owned stallion, Marine Brass, that stands at Murmur Farm in Darlington, has turned out much better than expected. He has won four races and nearly $200,000 for Pomerantz, who sold an interest in the colt to another longtime Blengs client, Wayne Harrison of Rockville, just before the Million.
Many of the other Million stakes produced more formful results.
Urbane, the Grade I-winning filly from California, scored an eight-length victory over Quite Proper as the 1-5 favorite in the Oaks.
It was the only win yesterday for California jockey Corey Nakatani, but he said it was worth it to fly to Maryland. The best he could do in his four other Million mounts was a third in the Lassie with Im Out First.
The only Million winner that is Breeders' Cup bound is Mystic Rhythms.
Like Urbane, she is a daughter of Citidancer and deftly handled her competition yesterday, coming from off the pace in the Lassie and drawing off to 4 1/2 -length victory over Secret Prospect. Owner John Rotella said he will try top 2-year-old filly Golden Attraction in the Oct. 28 Breeders' Cup Juvenile filly stakes at Belmont Park.
In other results yesterday, trainer Dale Capuano broke his Maryland Million jinx and won his first Million race when his father's Foxie G. rallied from off of a super quick pace set by Crumpton and won the $100,000 Sprint.
Count On Numbers, Herman Kossow's 2 year-old colt, won as expected in the Nursey. But it was not a pretty sight.
The horse bolted coming into the stretch after hearing a crack from a rival's jockey's whip. Despite racing extremely wide, he still held onto a length win over Boniface-trained Hardball.
Both turf races were taken off the grass because of the heavy rain. But that didn't deter Mz. Zill Bear, Bill and Phyllis Dixon's 6-year-old mare, from winning her third Million race.
Short Stay gave Country Life Farm stallion, Citidancer, his third Million winner when he raced to a five-length win in the 3-year-old turf race, which was run on the main track in the slop.
Race organizers attributed the weather to the Million's lowest crowd size -- 19,238 fans -- in 10 years. But the handle of $4.3 million was the series' second largest since the Million's inception in 1986.
Starter handicap: Goldgorian's Alden
Steeplechase: Race canceled
Handicap: Den Of Thieves
Distaff: Churchbell Chimes
Lassie: Mystic Rhythms
Sprint handicap: Foxie G
Nursery: Count On Numbers
Ladies: Mz. Zill Bear
Classic: Brilliant Patriot
Turf: Short Stay