By T. D. Thornton
The longest shot on the board got elevated to victory via disqualification of the 5-1 rival who beat him by a neck in the featured $150,000 Classic S. on the 38th annual Jim McKay Maryland Million program Saturday at Laurel Park.
Ain't Da Beer Cold (Freedom Child), dismissed by the betting public at 36-1, led the field until the quarter pole under Jevian Toledo when Market Maven (Super Ninety Nine) seemingly put him away. But Ain't Da Beer Cold refused to quit, digging in and reclaiming the lead a half-furlong later.
Just after the dueling duo crested the eighth pole, Market Maven slanted inward after Carlos Lopez delivered two stern right-handed cracks of the whip. Then that gelding dropped farther toward the inside, bumping the rail-running Ain't Da Beer Cold once. The two continued in lockstep, bobbing noses as the line loomed, with the stubborn Ain't Da Beer Cold refusing to relinquish a slim advantage until the all-out Market Maven wore him down in the final six jumps to the wire.
The stewards never lit the inquiry sign but Toledo claimed foul, leading to the reversal of the finish positions and a jubilant trip to the winner's circle for the breeders/owners Matt Spencer and Kelly Jo Cox, plus co-owner Bonuccelli Racing and trainer Kenny Cox.
Ain't Da Beer Cold was a difficult horse to figure on paper. The 5-year-old had been beaten an aggregate 99 1/4 lengths in his last five starts. He had finished eighth in two previous editions of the Maryland Million Classic and hadn't won a race since the summer of 2022 at the Timonium fair.
“We just went in there hoping he would show up,” Cox said. “He's had terrible form. We've had a bunch of excuses, and I don't like making excuses.”
But after conferring with the owners, Cox decided to give Ain't Da Beer Cold one more shot in the Classic prior to a winter turnout.
“This is better than the [GI] Preakness [S.],” Spencer said post-win. “It's a dream come true. This horse is all heart. Toledo says he's going to the lead and let's see what happens. Let's see how far he can go. Thankfully we got put up. I didn't think it was going to happen. The racing gods were good to us today.”
The victory was Toledo's fourth on the Oct. 14 Maryland Million card and his third in that afternoon's eight stakes.
Timed in 1:52.39 over a dirt track that had been downgraded to “good” by rain after first being rated as “wet fast” and then “fast,” it was the slowest Maryland Million Classic since that stakes began being carded at 1 1/8 miles in 2009.
Yet the rain showers weren't enough to water down the turf course condition from “firm,” nor did the moisture dampen the chances of front-runners, who swept the two grass route stakes.
The $125,000 Turf over nine furlongs produced a deja-vu result. Last year Wicked Prankster (Mosler) cleared the field, looked certain to be swallowed up late, then resurged to win this same stakes by three-quarters of a length. Wicked Prankster had been 0-for-5 since, but the betting public backed him to second choice in the wagering (2.8-1) to repeat.
Jockey Yomar Ortiz, riding the 5-year-old for the first time for owner/trainer Sam Davis, sent his gelding to the lead and made sure he stayed on under pressure, again winning by three-quarters of a length, stopping the timer in 1:48.28.
“Sam told me to break good and get to the front, take it easy and relax,” said Ortiz. “I had a lot of horse left at the quarter pole. Turning for home, I knew I had it.”
Country Life Farm & Broken Trust Fund bred Wicked Prankster.
It was the same running style and same three-quarters winning margin in the $125,000 Ladies S. at nine furlongs on the lawn. Precious Avary (Divining Rod) shot straight to the front and never looked back in 1:49.53, extending her lifetime mark on the turf to 3-for-3 for owner/breeder Smith Farm & Stable, trainer Tim Shaw, and jockey Silvestre Gonzalez.
Off at 3.3-1 odds, the 3-year-old filly is a New Jersey-bred with a Maryland sire, so that gives her dual access to Maryland Million conditions and New Jersey-bred opportunities. Over the summer, Precious Avary won two restricted allowances and a “J-bred” stakes at Monmouth Park.
“I knew if she ran similar on the lead at Monmouth she would be tough today,” Gonzalez said. “She broke sharp with her ears perked and was happy. I was thinking she'd sit second as there might be speed from the outside, but she went on. Around the turn I asked her for run and she went about her business.”
The two juvenile stakes, both carded at six furlongs, produced clockings only one-hundredth of a second apart, with the fillies (track “fast”) fractionally edging the boys (track “good”).
The $100,000 Lassie S. for 2-year-old-fillies stood out from a “bombs away” perspective, with Miss Harriett (Blofeld), the lone first-time-starter in a field of 13, igniting the tote board at 62-1.
AIN'T DA BEER COLD ($75.00) was hot in the $150,000 Maryland Million Classic at @LaurelPark. This 5-year-old gelding was conditioned by Kenneth Cox with Jevian Toledo in the irons. Congrats to the connections! 🏆 pic.twitter.com/galbJERbpk
— TVG (@TVG) October 14, 2023
Piloted by Jean Briceno, Miss Harriett forced the pacemaker from post 12, took over at the quarter pole, braced for the challenge of the dead-aim favorite, lost the lead at the sixteenth pole, then determinedly clawed it back in the shadow of the wire to score by a neck in 1:12.23.
The win represented the third straight Maryland Million juvenile stakes score for Blofeld, whose progeny swept both 2-year-old events in 2022. Miss Harriett was bred by David Baxter, is owned by Narrow Leaf Farm, and is trained by Brandon McFarlane.
The companion $100,000 Nursery S. for 2-year-old males featured a polished performance by Catahoula Moon (Golden Lad) that belied his relative inexperience and 4-1 odds.
Locked and blocked but full of run behind a wall of five horses at the head of the stretch, Xavier Perez deftly guided Catahoula Moon's distinctively jagged-blazed head off of heels of the frontrunners, then knifed the colt through an opening to pulse on past, leaving the field (and Perez's dropped crop) 4 3/4 lengths behind in 1:12.24.
Bred by Angela Coombs, Catahoula Moon is owned by Super C Racing and trained by John Robb.
In the $100,000 Distaff S. at seven furlongs, even-money Intrepid Daydream (Jess's Dream) seized the lead at the top of the stretch and sprinted clear to run her lifetime record to 6-3-1 from 12 starts. The three-length triumph in 1:24.62 was her third straight win for breeder/owner Paul Fowler Jr. and trainer Gary Capuano. Toledo rode.
The 4-year-old filly might have had a more difficult time drawing into the race than she did winning it, requiring scratches to get in.
“I didn't know we were going to be in. I was rushing around trying to get here and see the race,” Fowler said. “She ran like we expected. She usually shows speed and today she took back a little bit, relaxed and went on with it. It's pretty amazing, because it's a long road.”
In the $100,000 Sprint S. at six furlongs, Seven's Eleven (Bandbox) pressured the pacemaker, then brushed and bumped with that rival in upper stretch before strong-arming him into submission and widening a winning margin to five lengths in 1:10.49.
The 3-year-old gelding is a homebred for Cottonwood Stable. Carlos Mancilla trains, and Angel Cruz rode. The gray was coming off an 8 1/2-length allowance romp over seven furlongs and had little trouble shortening to three-quarters of a mile at 4.9-1 odds.
In the $100,000 Turf Sprint S. over 5 1/2 furlongs, Witty (Great Notion), a 4-year-old half-brother to last year's GI Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint victress Caravel (Mizzen Mast), pounced from last at the quarter pole and barreled up a wide-open rail, blasting past four contenders at the sixteenth marker to run his record to 6-7-0 record from 18 starts. The winning time was 1:02.64.
Bred, owned, and trained by Elizabeth Merryman, Toledo was aboard for the 1 ¼-length score at 7-10 odds.
Witty's victory represented the continuance of an impressive 14-year streak set by Great Notion, the state's leading stallion by progeny earnings every year since 2018 (and the runaway leader so far this season). His offspring have now won at least one Maryland Million Day stakes in every running of the event since 2010.
Witty's older sister, Caravel, will try to complete a sibling stakes double at Keeneland on Sunday. She's the 9-5 morning line favorite in the GII Franklin S.