The two Maryland-trained entries in the Kentucky Derby are both solid racehorses with respectable pedigrees that could command top dollar in an auction.
But if either Concerto or Captain Bodgit wins tomorrow's classic, their value would easily double or triple, to several million dollars.
Even in the high-stakes world of thoroughbreds, where millions of dollars are paid for horses who can generate returns either on the track or in the breeding barn, a Kentucky Derby win is like nothing else.
"It's like gold dust sprinkled on a horse's name," said Michael Pons, business manager for Country Life Farm in Bel Air.
It's not that the Kentucky Derby attracts the best horses in racing. It doesn't. The race, limited to 3-year olds, is more of a coming-out party for the most promising animals of their generation.
Plenty of faster, stronger and more reliable horses peak well past their third year. Maryland-bred Cigar, for example, didn't hit his stride until he was 5.
And navigating a winning course through the crowded fields that have marked the Derby in recent years is as much luck, and good jockeying, as speed and stamina.
But the Derby is the best known of all races and its winner is guaranteed a moment in racing's singularly bright spotlight.
"There is no question that for Americans this is the race. People remember the horse's name. When you pick up a julep glass, the name is on there," said Robert Lawrence, director of the equine industry program at the University of Louisville.
Being able to advertise your horse as a Derby winner commands instant recognition and credibility.
There are practical reasons, too. The Derby is a grueling race. It is relatively long, 1 1/4 miles, run on a track full of distractions. It tests both physical endurance and mental intangibles, such as heart and concentration.
And because it comes so early in a horse's life, a Derby victory suggests plenty of earning potential. Owners are faced with the appealing choice of running for still more winnings, or heading off to stud service.
More running establishes the horse as a champion but is costly and can expose the animal to injury or reveal the Derby win as a fluke.
"The real money in this business is in the breeding shed," said John Clooney, a spokesman for the Jockey Club, a national thoroughbred group.
Stud service, too, carries its risks. Some great runners -- Cigar, for example -- either prove impotent or fail to pass along the elusive genes that made them win. By the time this is known, the horse may have passed his best years on the track.
As long as he has reasonable lineage, a typical Derby winner can command $40,000 and up for a mating opportunity. With 80 to 100 such encounters a season, the horse could earn $4 million a year. If his progeny win big races, the fee could top $100,000.
Even a Derby winner with an unimpressive family tree can command $20,000 at stud. Lil E. Tee and Grindstone, two recent Derby winners, for example, bring in $29,000 and $22,000 fees, respectively.
"If they have no pedigree, you still have the public attention. Everyone knows this horse can run. He may be able to pass it on and start a new dynasty," Lawrence said.
"It absolutely does everything for a horse. It is the race to win," he said.
What: 123rd Kentucky Derby, first leg of horse racing's Triple Crown
Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky.
When: Tomorrow; post time 5: 32 p.m.
Distance: 1 1/4 miles
Weights: All carry 126 pounds.
Purse: $1,000,000 if 13 start. 1st place: $700,000. 2nd: $170,000. 3rd: $85,000. 4th: $45,000.
TV: Chs. 2, 7
PP Horse, Trainer, Jockey, Odds
1. Crypto Star, Wayne Catalano, Pat Day, 10-1
Phantom On Tour, Lynn Whiting, Jerry Bailey, 12-1
3. Concerto, John Tammaro III, Carlos Marquez Jr., 8-1
4. Captain Bodgit, Gary Capuano, Alex Solis, 5-2
Silver Charm, Bob Baffert, Gary Stevens, 5-1
Celtic Warrior, Danny Hutt, Francisco Torres, 50-1
Pulpit, Frank Brothers, Shane Sellers, 2-1
8. Hello, Ron McAnally, Mike Smith, 12-1
9. Jack Flash, Nick Zito, Craig Perret, 30-1*
Shammy Davis, Nick Zito, Willie Martinez, 30-1*
Deeds Not Words, D. Wayne Lukasm, Corey Nakatani, 50-1
12. Crimson Classic, Forrest Kaelin, Robby Albarado, 50-1
Free House, Paco Gonzalez, David Flores, 8-1
-- Coupled in betting
Pub Date: 5/02/97