When the first Maryland Juvenile Championship was run in 1982, it seemed a bit excessive to offer a $100,000 purse for Maryland-bred 2-year-olds.
But the outcome of the inaugural running vividly demonstrated how strong the state's breeding industry had become. Dixieland Band, Deputed Testamony and Caveat ran one-two-three; all of them went on to become major stakes winners, and they accounted for two-thirds of the 1983 Triple Crown series.
So when the Maryland Juvenile Championship is run at Laurel Race Course this afternoon, it is not far-fetched to wonder if a future star is in the field.
The 1 1/16-mile event has drawn an evenly matched nine-horse lineup. It includes one colt, Tent Up, who has won a stake in New York, and another, Numeric, who comes from trainer Woody Stephens' powerful stable. But the horse to beat may be a humbly bred local gelding named Little Bold John.
Two weeks ago, in the Tri-State Futurity at Charles Town, Little Bold John was running next to last on the final turn, an almost hopeless position on that little track. But he accelerated suddenly, flew through the pack and caught the odds-on favorite, Rain Shelter, at the end.
It was the greatest victory ever for owner Hal Clagett, a former president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, who has been raising thoroughbreds in the state for four decades. It was, at least, until the stewards disqualified Little Bold John for a foul he committed while barreling through the pack.
Nevertheless, Little Bold John's performance was a powerful one that suggests he will enjoy the longer distance of the juvenile championship.
Of his rivals, Tent Up is the most accomplished, having won the Pilgrim Stakes on the turf at Aqueduct. But he has not proved that he is as effective on dirt as on grass.
Numeric will get plenty of support from Maryland bettors who know how successful Stephens is when he ships horses to Laurel. Numeric won his first in his most recent start at Aqueduct, running a mile in a slow 1:39 1/5.
Jay Bryan looked impressive winning his only two starts at Laurel, and he is clearly a colt with a future. But he has never raced beyond six furlongs, and a lack of seasoning probably will place him at a disadvantage today.