Welcome to another edition of America’s Best Racing’s Main Track. Each week in this space we spotlight the most meaningful story of the past seven days, detailing a story that stands out because of its importance or perhaps the emotional response it generates.
Looking ahead, if you believe there’s a story this week that should be featured in next week’s edition of the Main Track, let us know by tweeting it to @ABRLive using the hashtag #ABRMainTrack.
This week, we’ll look at a day with special meaning for the people and horses who propel the sport on a daily basis.
The World Championships may be about two weeks away, but there was a Breeders’ Cup feel this past Saturday in Maryland and New York.
The money was far less than what will be on the line Nov. 2-3 at Churchill Downs when the Breeders’ Cup is contested for the 35th time, yet for horsemen in New York and Maryland it was a time to shine a spotlight on horses and horsemen who rarely get their proper amount of due credit.
For Saturday was Jim McKay Maryland Million Day at Pimlico, the grandfather of every other state’s big day for horses bred within their borders, and Empire Showcase Day at Belmont Park for New York State-breds. They were two events where state-breds, the horses essential to filling cards, had a day dedicated to them when they could run in a series of lucrative restricted stakes.
The Maryland Million started it all. It was famed ABC announcer Jim McKay, a man with a deep passion for Maryland racing, who came up with the idea after attending the first Breeders’ Cup in 1984. He was instrumental in the series’ creation and growth and this year’s 33rd edition of what is now fittingly called Jim McKay Maryland Million Day would have made the late sports icon proud.
Saratoga Bob captured the featured $150,000 Maryland Million Classic, and in the process enabled Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado to set a record with 18 wins at the event.
Saratoga Bob also typified the theme of the afternoon as he is owned by trainer Katharine M. Voss and Wayne Harrison, who bred him in Maryland, along with Robert Manfuso. It was the first stakes win for the 4-year-old gelding and the winner’s purse of $82,500 pushed his earnings to $177,215.
“He ran so game. They kept coming at him and he just kept trying,” Voss said. “I told Edgar, ‘You figure this one out.’ He can ride them a lot better than I can. Nobody’s done it better than him. It was exciting.”
In New York, the stakes were higher. There were eight stakes for New York State-breds worth $1.75 million on Empire Classic Day, one of a few seasonal stakes buffets for state-breds, and they featured a long list of horses quite familiar to New York bettors, such as Kharafa, Highway Star, Offering Plan and 2017 Belmont Stakes starter Twisted Tom.
The big prize, the $300,000 Empire Classic, went to Pat On the Back, a 4-year-old who should have a bright future in open stakes.
With two wins and three seconds in his six 2018 starts, the son of Congrats posted the most important victory of his career in recording a length-and-a-half victory over Can You Diggit while earning $173,250 and extending his career total to a gaudy $727,532 for trainer Jeremiah Englehart and owners Harold Lerner, Nehoc Stables and Wayne and Adriana Cutler of AWC Stables.
"This was a great way to end a fantastic day,” said Lerner, who earlier in the day teamed with Nehoc Stables to win the $150,000 Mohawk Stakes with Runaway Lute and give Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano his 5,000th victory. “It’s been a great Empire Showcase Day for me and my partners. We'll definitely enjoy today, and we always love to support the New York-bred program."
Without question, Lerner was not alone in those sentiments. There were many others who felt the same way on Saturday in Maryland and New York, when the little guys had their chance to enjoy the attention that will be served up in a much bigger and grandiose way two weekends from now at Churchill Downs.
THE ALSO-ELIGIBLE LIST
Here’s some of the other noteworthy stories that made for a lively week in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry: