by Jeremy Plonk
October 18, 2019
The 34th Jim McKay Maryland Million, the first of the state-held championship cards inaugurated in 1986, returns to Laurel Park on Saturday in a celebration of all things Maryland. Sure, there will be crabcakes, but the feast also includes 7 stakes and total purses topping $1 million. The 12-race program gets underway at noon ET.
Maryland Million-accredited runners are given preference, which likely will keep those runners on the also-eligible list out of the action. Among the 11 expected to start, returning champion SARATOGA BOB has been racing in open company allowance races throughout 2019. The '18 third-place finisher CLUBMAN has a pair of open company stakes wins this year. TRIFOR GOLD was runner-up in the Federico Tesio for open 3-year-olds at Pimlico. And PRENDIMI is a New Jersey-bred stakes winner (by Maryland Million-accredited sire Dance With Ravens, thus eligible). There's not an overwhelming class edge anywhere here, so other handicapping elements are more in play.
At 1-1/8 miles, one lap around the expansive Laurel oval, you don't expect anything wild early and you don't expect an express train late. SARATOGA BOB pressed the leader throughout last year in victory and this race often is won on or near the front. PRENDIMI should be among the pace on the stretch-out in distance, as will sprinter TAPPIN CAT, shipper FOREST FIRE and the sophomore TRIFOR GOLD.
SARATOGA BOB benefits from the rail draw on a 9-furlong oval like Laurel Park even though statistically there's not a discernible edge in the numbers. It's not advantageous, per se, but you have to do a lot less to get where you want to go, and that helps over this long trip. The initial run to the first turn is where he'll benefit most. He's had a lighter campaign this year than last and hasn't raced since June, trainer Katey Voss saying that SARATOGA BOB doesn't respond well to intense heat. But he was unable to make an autumn prep for this, and the trainer has contemplated the Sprint or Turf at shorter trips. That's not a rousing endorsement.
PRENDIMI is drawn well in post 3 while making his first start at Laurel Park. The 1-1/8 miles distance will be his hurdle as he's done most of his best work sprinting. Monmouth shippers haven't lit Laurel afire this year (4-30 heading into the weekend, winless in 12 races at a mile or more). While capable of just speed-popping this field and having winded chasers not good enough to close late over 9 furlongs, it's plausible PRENDIMI wins this. But I'd have to see about 8-1 to get enticed.
Sire Not For Love was responsible for 3-time Maryland Million Classic winner Eighttofasttocatch and will be represented with a trio of contenders this year. CLUBMAN leads that triumvirate and will be finishing fastest of all. He's earned big BRIS late pace figures in nearly every start regardless of distance, from the bullring at Timonium to 2-turns at Laurel and Delaware Park. TORCH OF TRUTH has to overcome post 11 after being defeated as the 3-5 favorite in a local allowance prep. He's got a good late run if timed right and will need a masterful ride from local top pilot Trevor McCarthy. And longshot LEGEND'S HOPE appears overmatched.
FOREST FIRE ran well at Laurel in Spring 2018, winning an allowance and finishing second in the Private Terms on the local Preakness path. That Parx-based runner has been all-or-nothing of late for John Servis, winning 4 of his last 7. Aggressive gate jockey Paco Lopez rides and that means this speedster will be part of the early mix.
TRIFOR GOLD is the real X-factor in the field. He's the 3-year-old vs. elders and the new face to the division. He's 0-for-4 in allowance company against older horses and will be challenged by a likely quick pace. There's definite talent here, but it seems like a very tall order in 2019. He could be the horse we talk about in the Maryland Million Classic at age 4 or 5, or be turned back to sprinting.
Most Certain Exotics Contender: CLUBMAN gets the pace set-up and will be running best at the end when others may be searching for more.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender: TATTOOED goes for a Tim Keefe barn that has to be respected and owns a 9-for-18 record in the exacta on the Laurel Park main track. This barn won the Maryland Million Classic 3 times with Eighttofasttocatch and this is a 4-year-old with some ceiling to grow.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll): $50 exacta CLUBMAN over PRENDIMI. $25 exacta part-wheel CLUBMAN over TATTOOED and TORCH OF TRUTH.