BALTIMORE -- The Maryland Million has lured horses from every section of the country to Pimlico Sunday. In the main event, handicappers must weigh the relative merits of shippers from New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Canada who are matched against the local contingent.
Ordinarily, such races pose an inscrutable puzzle for bettors, because there may be no lines of comparison that can be drawn between the horses. But for the most part, the Million doesn't look so tough. Many of the races may be dominated by one clearly superior entrant. Picking winners on this card will be a piece of cake.
Maryland Distaff Handicap:
If a bettor was inclined to place huge bets on standout favorites to place or show, this would be the place to make such a move. Safely Kept, America's champion sprinter of 1990, totally outclasses her five female rivals in this six-furlong race, and she may well attract some of the so-called "bridge jumpers" who will bring a satchel of money to the track to collect a 5 percent return on their investment. It's probably a safer investment than putting money in your local savings and loan.
This is the weakest race on the card -- and the toughest to handicap. No filly in this group of 2-year-olds has any stakes credentials and most of the entrants have been running in maiden claiming races. I'm taking a flyer with Accra Two, who had some trouble in her last start and may be a closer in a field with a lot of weak speed.
Valay Maid has won or placed in eight stakes this season, but she never looked so impressive as she did in cruising to a six-length victory in her last start at Pimlico. She appears to tower over the other 3-year-old fillies in this 1 1/8-mile event.
There is an intriguing unknown quantity in this race for 2-year-old males: Calledons Prospect, who has won his two starts by a combined total of 19 lengths against terrible competition at Charles Town (W.Va.) and Delaware. He might be a good one, but even if he is, he probably won't be able to beat Xray, the solid known commodity in the field. Xray placed in two stakes against major league competition at Del Mar in California, and he's the clear class of the field.
One year ago, 35-1 Countus In scored an upset when she beat Betty Lobelia. This time, the same result won't be a surprise. Countus In has run well against good competition at Arlington International Racecourse this summer; Betty Lobelia will be coming into the race off a six-month layoff. Moreover, Countus In appears to be the only speed horse in the field, giving jockey Julie Krone the chance to take an easy, unchallenged early lead.
This always-intriguing event is open to horses who have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less in the last year. New Jersey-based Malling appears to be the class of the field; when he ran in a starter-handicap race last month, Malling scored a nose victory a rival named Greek God, who subsequently won a $50,000 claiming race. Unfortunately, Malling drew the No. 13 post position in the 1 1/8 mile race. The sharp colt who drew the rail, Mahvelous Matt, may have the edge over Malling.
Maryland Sprint Handicap:
In what may be the best race of the day, Deputy Shaw will be attempting to repeat his smashing 1989 victory, when he led all the way to score a runaway victory and equal the track record for six furlongs (1:09 1/5). He shouldn't have much trouble getting the lead in this field but, even so, Jeweler's Choice should be able to run him down. The Maryland-based gelding went to Saratoga this summer and delivered two outstanding performances; he is in the best form of his life.
Master Speaker has scored victories on the last two Maryland Million days, and he should run his streak to three in the $200,000 main event on the program. He delivered a sharp performance at Pimlico in his last start, and he is a bona fide 1 1/4-mile horse, while his chief rival, Silano, may be less effective at that distance.
Divine Warning has been unlucky in New York stakes company this summer; he keeps finding himself in races with no speed, and the slow early pace nullifies his strong stretch kick. This race should have a quick pace, and he should win with ease.