Showcasing in bloom at festival

Country Life Farm owner Mike Pons thought about today's Spring Festival of Racing at Pimlico Race Course and described it this way:

"It's like a club sandwich," he said. "You have the stakes for the Maryland-breds, the Maryland Million horses and the Tesio. I think it's a lot of fun."


It is a day to showcase Maryland-bred and Maryland-sired thoroughbreds. Maryland Jockey Club president and chief operating officer Lou Raffetto said the event is a "prelude to the Preakness" on May 20 and gives breeders, horsemen and the sport's fans an opportunity to get excited about racing.

"We're trying to have more event days at the racetrack," Raffetto said. "Events mean more to people and this gives the local Maryland-bred owners and breeders a chance to showcase their stock and encourages more people to come to the races."


The $150,000 Federico Tesio Stakes, which will be televised on ESPN2 as part of the "Citgo Racing to the Kentucky Derby" program between 6 and 7 p.m., is a traditional steppingstone to the Preakness for local horses. Over the years, Deputed Testamony (1983), Oliver's Twist (1995) and Magic Weisner (2002) have shown their talents in this race.

Today, the 11-horse field will feature early-line favorite Ah Day who will try to beat Our Peak, who as a 74-to-1 shot earlier this month upset him in the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park. Also in the field will be Vegas Play, who finished second in the Miracle Wood Stakes, and Scanlon's Song, who was fourth in the Wood Memorial.

The $200,000 Jim McKay Breeders' Cup Handicap for 3-year-olds and up, will not be run, having received just four entries.

But MJC stakes coordinator Wendy Pensivy said entries for two of the three stakes for Maryland-bred and Maryland Million horses sponsored by state breeding farms are up. There will be nine horses in the Maryland Stallion Station Stakes for 3-year-olds and 10 entries in the Northview Stallion Station Stakes for fillies and mares, 3 year old and up.

Each of those stakes, like the Country Life Farm Stakes for 3-year-old fillies which drew six entries, will pay $125,000. In addition, the breeders of the first two finishers in each of those three races will be given a breeding season with one of two stallions from each of the farms.

Pons, who described the breeding season as "a mint on your pillow at night, to be used or not," said he will offer a choice between two young stallions, Parker's Storm Cat, a half brother to Malibu Moon, and No Armistice, by Unbridled. The Maryland Stallion Station will offer Fantasticat and St Averil and the Northview Stallion Station will offer a choice between Partner's Hero and Polish Miner.

"The Spring Festival is a pretty wonderful concept," said Tim Capps of the Maryland Stallion Station. "It energizes the horse community and gives Pimlico additional panache."