For a horse who broke his neck as a yearling, and then kept falling down when he galloped as a 2-year-old, La Reine's Terms certainly turned into a splendid racehorse.
Now 7, La Reine's Terms won the $100,000 Maryland Million Turf yesterday at Pimlico after a long, breathtaking charge that seemed until the final strides as if it would come up short. The victory was the fifth in a row for La Reine's Terms, who seems finally to have found a seam of good luck.
Romping in a field as a yearling, he somehow broke his neck. His owners, Sondra and Howard Bender, and trainer, Larry Murray, contemplated what to do. The insurance company had already said it would pay the claim if they decided to euthanize the horse.
"There was something about him," Murray said in the winner's circle. "Looking at him, he didn't want to give up."
La Reine's Terms recovered -- gradually. The next year, at 2, one ear flopped over, and if he lost his focus while galloping, he'd fall down. He eventually found his coordination, combined it with his determination and won 13 of 33 races for earnings of $502,256.
"He never gives up," said Murray, who is stabled at Laurel Park. "That's what makes him so special to everyone associated with him."
Murray thanked two of his workers for their patient work with La Reine's Terms: Karen Bright, his groom, and Valerie Kounelis, his exercise rider.
"Those are the two women in this horse's life," Murray said. "They love him. And they spoil him -- candy, carrots, you name it. He's a neat old guy."
The son of Private Terms has not lost since last year's Maryland Million Turf, when a horse broke a leg in the first turn and forced La Reine's Terms nearly off the track. He finished seventh as the favorite, but his race line reads: "Eliminated 1st turn."
Despite being yesterday's only favorite at less than even money (4-5), La Reine's Terms, not surprisingly, didn't have it easy. Trapped most of the 1 1/8 -mile race on the rail, he and his jockey, Horacio Karamanos, finally broke free at the top of stretch and then gradually, valiantly, wore down the game pacesetter, Elberton.
Fittingly, La Reine's Terms won by a neck, and Murray, his trainer, said: "I thought he was life and death to win it."
Sondra Bender, who with her husband, Howard, are as devoted to Maryland racing as anyone, said winning their third Maryland Million was, "in two words: the best."
Big day for Pino
Immediately after being honored by the Maryland Jockey Club for winning 5,000 races, Maryland jockey Mario Pino guided Deer Run to a speedy, one-length victory in the Maryland Million Sprint.
At he crossed the wire, Pino stood in the stirrups and pumped his fist. That's about as much emotion as you'll see from the veteran rider.
"My heart was pumping," Pino said. "I gave it just a little bit extra."
Good to be back
Two Maryland trainers who have had success nationally found some at home in back-to-back, $100,000 races. The Tony Dutrow-trained Undercover romped in the Oaks, and the Gary Capuano-trained Cherokee's Boy scored by a length in the Nursery.
Dutrow said that Undercover, a 3-year-old filly by Allen's Prospect, was a slow learner, winning only two of five races before yesterday despite above-average ability.
"It just took a long time for her to see the light," Dutrow said. "Today, she sure had her game face on. She possibly might be a right decent filly."
Pino won his first of two races aboard Undercover. Ryan Fogelsonger, the jockey, won his first Maryland Million race aboard Cherokee's Boy, and, in the process, delivered the first Maryland Million victory to Capuano.
Traveling to score
Out-of-state connections swept three straight races -- the fifth, sixth and seventh. The Kentucky-based Object Of Virtue won the Lassie, the New York-based Shopping For Love the Ladies, and the New Jersey-based Blinded By Love the Distaff.
Richard Migliore rode two of the winners, Shopping For Love and Blinded By Love. Shopping For Love, 5, one of the top New York-bred turf horses, will race one more time before being offered for sale at the Keeneland, Ky., auction in November.
Happy to be here
Although the first two races were the only ones with less than $100,000 purses, they did not produce any less jubilant winner's circle celebrations.
Phyllis Dixon, who lives in Annapolis, owns Top Of The News, winner of the $50,000 Starter Handicap. She had asked Tim Ritchey, the Delaware-based trainer, to claim her a horse for the Maryland Million. In July, he claimed this 4-year-old son of Press Card.
After Top Of The News rewarded them with the win, Dixon, jumping up and down, said: "There's never a better day than when your horse wins."
In the $50,000 Distaff Starter Handicap, Mojo Gal won by 6 1/2 lengths for an owner with a curious stable name: Never Take A Partner Racing Stable. Charlie Hubert, who lives in Virginia and gallops his own horses at the Upper Marlboro training center, said he came up with the name after having partners, who, well, he said, that's another story.