For much of his life, Miracle Wood has looked like a horse who could be characterized by the old epithet "cheap speed."
The product of a humble pedigree, he started his career in $18,500 maiden races in Maryland. In most of them, he would battle head and head for the lead. He looked like a one-dimensional front runner.
But yesterday, Miracle Wood dispelled both of those images. Showing both versatility and class, he came from off the pace to win the $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Championship by a nose over the filly Bug Eyed Betty.
He also benefited from a lot of racing luck. While Miracle Wood received a flawless ride from Donald Miller, Bug Eyed Betty encountered enough trouble under Danny Wright's guidance to cost her the race. In a talented generation of Maryland-bred 2-year-olds, she probably has the brightest future.
Five horses in the 10-horse field at Laurel decided to go for the early lead, and all of them collapsed from their exertions.
Miracle Wood had broken quickly, but Miller eased him back. "More horses showed speed than I expected," he said. Wright had no choice of tactics with Bug Eyed Betty; the filly always comes from behind.
After the pace-setters had run the first half-mile in 47 3/5 seconds and were starting to weaken, Miller made a strong move on the rail and got through to take the lead. But while Miracle Wood was moving well, Bug Eyed Betty was accelerating even faster. She was ready to blow past the whole field on the turn -- if she had anywhere to go.
Wright might have followed Miracle Wood up the rail, but instead he tried to swing outside and drive through the pack of leaders, who were four abreast. But the hole he was heading for closed on him, and when he aimed for another one, the same thing happened.
Bug Eyed Betty had lost her momentum when she finally got clear, but she accelerated again and drew abreast of Miracle Wood in midstretch. But Miracle Wood wouldn't give up. The two matched strides to the wire, and the colt got his nose in front. His winning time was 1:46 1/5 for 1 1/16 miles.
A son of the stallion Baederwood, Miracle Wood started his career in claiming races at Bowie, but developed enough to win a pair of stakes at Pimlico this summer.
He finished third in the rich Laurel Futurity after a tough head-and-head duel for the lead, and it looked as if his one-dimensional style would hurt his chances to be a distance horse.
But in Miracle Wood's last start at Laurel, Miller and trainer Ferris Allen learned something about the 2-year-old. He encountered a little trouble at the start, dropped back to last place and rallied strongly to be third. "It seems he runs much better that way," Allen said.
With this new stretch-running style, Miracle Wood may have a future in open 3-year-old stakes next season. But not as bright as Bug Eyed Betty, who may be one of the most talented members of her age group in the country.