Saratoga Springs romped to the most decisive victory on Maryland Million day, a 7 1/2-length score in the $100,000 Maryland Million Oaks. Her triumph prompted an emotional celebration in the winner's circle.
Her former trainer, the renowned Dick Dutrow, was one of her owners along with his wife, Vicki, and friends Sondra and Howard Bender, Arlene and Herb Kushner, and Marion and Al Akman -- Marylanders all.
After Dutrow died in February and his son Tony took over training, the owners changed the name of their group to Saratoga Friends Stable, reflecting their relationship with Dutrow.
One of the most respected trainers in Maryland racing, Dutrow was on everybody's mind in the winner's circle.
"He's with me and my brothers every day," Tony said, referring to Ricky, who trains in New York, and Chip, who assists Tony at Laurel Park. "We talk about him constantly. He was such an influence on so many people. When we make a decision we think, 'What would Dad think about this? How would he handle it?' "
A 3-year-old daughter of Valley Crossing, Saratoga Friends had raced only once since March, when Dutrow gave her several months off so she would be fresh for the Maryland Million. She has won three of her past four races by a combined 32 lengths.
New trainer, big win
In only her second start as a trainer, Leah Gyarmati won the $100,000 Distaff with Flippy Diane, who pulled away in the final sixteenth of a mile to best a game Fine Wood in what amounted to a two-horse race.
The remainder of the field was far back over the seven-furlong distance, which Flippy Diane completed in 1 minute, 23 4/5 seconds to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths. A former exercise rider for Allen Jerkens, Gyarmati retired from the jockey ranks last winter and met the many owners of the winning mare on the Internet.
"I was looking for a horse," Gyarmati said. "We got together and looked at several before deciding on Flippy Diane. I knew she was a Maryland-bred and the thought of the Maryland Million Distaff crossed my mind. We decided to pre-enter and see who was in there."
Jockey Diane Nelson was pleased that she wouldn't be involved in a speed duel early. "As it turned out, she broke quietely and I didn't have to get into a duel," Nelson said. "She responded and really ran on."
The grouping in the winner's circle was so large, the photograph had to be snapped on the track. Forty people, headed by Charles "Saratoga Charlie" Barringer own the gray mare, who is 2-for-3 with a second since returning from a layoff in July.
"It's amazing," he said of Gyarmati. "Only her second start and she has won a $100,000 stakes. That's a lot more than we invested."
Vaguely Rich is Ladies champ
Defending champion Lonesome Sound was not a factor in the Ladies, finishing seventh behind Vaguely Rich, who outgunned the 4-to-5 choice, Proud Run, by three quarters of a length.
The win was the first in stakes company for the daughter of Caveat, whose four lifetime victories have all come at Laurel.
"She's finally got her act together," said trainer Robin Graham. "She's a little flighty so you've got to figure out what to do with her and then just do it. Unfortunately, it's usually something different every day. She's got a mind of her own."
Jockey Mario Pino said he had a fantastic trip and that "getting this filly to relax" was the key. She's run with this kind before, but has never been quite good enough to beat them." He saluted Graham's work after Vaguely Rich returned from a two-month layoff to compete over yielding turf which Pino described as "really not the perfect surface for her."
Nick Santagata, aboard Proud Run, said a combination of giving four pounds to the winner and a soft course decided the outcome. "I thought she was going to put up a fight, but she really didn't."
The time was 1: 54 4/5, almost nine seconds off the track record for the distance.
'Private' gives foes the slip
Private Slip did a little better, winning in 1: 54 1/5 over the grass in the Turf showdown.
The lone speed in the race, Private Slip was ridden adroitly by Ricky Frazier, who slowed the pace to a crawl and had plenty left when favored Hardy's Halo made a futile stretch drive at him.
"The idea was to get out front," said Frazier. "If this horse gets in a fight, he really wants to fight back. And we wanted to avoid that. Every time they got a little close, I just let him out a notch. The race really set up for him."
Private Slip is the first horse ever bred by winning trainer Dale Capuano, who sold his dam, Blue Slip. "I wish I was smarter," he said. "I sold the mare. I just wasn't smart enough to keep her."
Tropical Punch has plenty
In the Distaff Starter Handicap, Tropical Punch rambled through the stretch for a 7 3/4-length victory, her third triumph in a row.
The daughter of Two Punch, she was favored at 4-to-5 odds and completed seven furlongs in 1: 24 2/5. She is 6-for-12 lifetime, primarily at Delaware Park, and has been out of the money just twice.
The companion race for males went to favored Pride of Benray, who stalked the pace, took over in the stretch and then fended off the rallying long shot, That's Lucky. The victory was the second on the day for Capuano.
At the end of the Starter Handicap, City Shelter, a 6-year-old gelding, collapsed after crossing the finish line of the day's final race. He lay motionless for several minutes before being revived when sprayed by a hose. Track veterinarian Dr. David G. Zipf said later that the horse collapsed from fatigue and should be fine.
Tom Voss-trained Riff pulled away from Farwell Look by 1 1/4 lengths and took the sixth running of the Million Steeplechase/Handicap in the opening event. The time was a leisurely 4: 23.36, more than 15 seconds slower than the track record.
Smith hits Lassie exacta
Horses trained by Hamilton A. Smith finished 1-2 in the $100,000 Lassie for 2-year-old fillies. Gin Talking, a daughter of Allen's Prospect, led her stablemate Case of the Blues under the wire by a length.
Although only three men from Clarksville own Gin Talking -- Bob Orndorff, Willie White and Lou Rehak -- dozens of friends and relatives crowded into the winner's circle, from Smith's 18-month-old granddaughter Taylor Michelle Smith to Orndorff's 87-year-old grandmother Browning Orndorff.
In the male counterpart to the Lassie, New York-based Darwin cruised to a 3 3/4-length victory in the $100,000 Nursery. Trained by Billy Badgett at Belmont Park, Darwin had raced against top 2-year-olds in his three previous starts in New York.
While his owner Ernie Paragallo and trainer Louis Albertrani remained at Belmont Park with Artax (who set a track record in the Forest Hills Handicap), Aristotle captured the $100,000 Sprint Handicap with a stretch rally that wore down the Maryland speedsters Romano Gucci and Storm Punch.
Asked about the son of Two Punch after the race, the assistant trainer Pete Campandella said: "I don't know a thing about this horse. This is my first day on the job."
Handle up; attendance down
A 53 percent increase over last year in out-of-state betting on the Maryland card accounted for a near-16 percent rise in the overall handle. The total was $6,120,409, up almost $850,000.
Combined attendance at Laurel, Pimlico and Rosecroft Raceway dropped nearly 3 percent from the previous year, to 24,097.