The five-month racing series known as MATCH (Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships) will conclude its third year as it concluded its first two: The outcome won't be decided until the final day.
And that day is Saturday, when the last race in each of the five divisions will take place at Delaware Park, Philadelphia Park, Penn National and the Meadowlands.
Three horses can still win the overall championship, worth $50,000 to the trainer and $100,000 to the owner. Trained by Maryland-based Barclay Tagg, Crab Grass can clinch the title by finishing third or better in the $100,000 Sweet and Sassy Stakes at Delaware Park.
If she falters, Loaded Gun, based in New Jersey, or Search for Luv, trained by Gary Capuano at Bowie, could win with victories. (See standings for final races.)
Despite a dispute with horsemen at Philadelphia Park, Alan Foreman, founder of the series, praised this year's version. "The turmoil is a sideshow," he said. "The reality is this has been the best of the three series."
The horsemen resigned this spring from the multi-state Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which Foreman heads, because of problems with his leadership that remain unclear. If not resolved, the dispute could affect the future of MATCH.
From a racing standpoint, Foreman said this has been "just a terrific year" with "consistently full fields of high quality. I credit that to the racing secretaries who did a masterful job spacing the series out and doing the scheduling."
MATCH is a 35-race competition with purses of $3.6 million and bonuses of $600,000 for the top owners and trainers. The series consists of seven races in five divisions at tracks throughout the mid-Atlantic. Horses earn points for their performances: Six for first, four for second, three for third, two for fourth, one for fifth through last.
Also on Saturday, Colonial Downs showcases its turf course with the second running of the Virginia Derby. Even with its purse reduced from $250,000 to $200,000, the Derby for 3-year-olds is Colonial Downs' signature event.
Ninety-five horses were nominated to the race that can accommodate no more than 14. At least two of the nominees have won graded stakes: Phi Beta Doc, trained by Robert Leonard, and North East Bound, trained by William Perry.
Through 10 days of racing, the southern Virginia track averaged 1,607 patrons and had a handle of $874,480. The betting figure includes Colonial Downs, its four OTBs and out-of-state wagering on Colonial Downs' races.
Nearly 81 percent of the total, $707,122, came from out of state. That's what track officials expected when they set a racing schedule of Friday through Tuesday with 3 p.m. post times. (The lone exception to that post time is Saturday, Virginia Derby day, when racing begins at 1 p.m.).
John Mooney, the Maryland Jockey Club executive managing Colonial Downs, said he was happy with the out-of-state betting and the quality of the racing but disappointed by the attendance.
Then again, he said, attendance hasn't been too bad considering the two hurricanes that swept through Virginia the past two weeks. Colonial Downs canceled racing one day because of Hurricane Floyd. The track will make up the loss by adding one race Fridays, Mondays and Tuesdays until closing day Oct. 11.
The attendance for the first 10 days last fall, when the weather was splendid, averaged 2,294. Despite the drop-off, total betting is running ahead of last fall's. The average for the 25-day season last year was $851,738 (compared to $874,480 so far this fall).
Big year for yearlings
The sale of yearlings this year has shattered records at every auction at which they've been trotted into the sales ring. Maryland's turn comes Oct. 4-6 with the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Eastern Fall yearling sale at the Timonium Fair Grounds. For the first time the sale will require three days because so many yearlings, 750, were entered.
Marylanders have prospered from the phenomenal prices for yearlings in other states. At the 11-day Keeneland September yearling sale that ended Thursday, Alan S. Kline, owner of Honey Acres Farm in Boyds, sold a filly from the first crop of Unbridled's Song for $800,000. The dam is Kline's D'Youville Nurse, in foal again to Unbridled's Song.
John C. Childs of Glyndon sold a filly from Mr. Greeley's second crop for $725,000. Childs owned the dam, Final Deputy, until selling her in foal to Two Punch for a sales-topping $125,000 at last year's Fasig-Tipton Midlantic December mixed sale.
At the just-concluded Keeneland sale, more money changed hands, $233,075,800, than at any thoroughbred auction in history. Twenty-three yearlings sold for $1 million or more.
Stellar Brush will miss the Super Derby on Saturday at Louisiana Downs because of slow-healing cuts on his front legs suffered in the Remington Park Derby. Robert E. Meyerhoff's talented 3-year-old colt probably won't race again this year. Bothered by sore hocks and an assortment of aches and pains, Da Hoss will not defend his title in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Cetawayo, Michael Dickinson's other Breeders' Cup horse, also will miss the trip because of nagging injuries. It didn't take long for Edgar Prado to leave his mark at the Meadowlands. After riding at Belmont Park during the day, Prado swept the four stakes last weekend at the Meadowlands, something no other jockey has done in the track's 22-year history. Mark your calendars for the Maryland Sire Stakes Showcase of Champions on Oct. 9 at Rosecroft Raceway, the West Virginia Breeders Classics XIII on Oct. 9 and 10 at Charles Town, and Maryland Million day Oct. 16 at Laurel Park.