The Prince George's Equestrian Center was dressed up as a racetrack yesterday. Even the horses looked real.
The exposition and horse show center, disguised for a day as old Marlboro Race Track, finished its two-day meeting with a gathering of good thoroughbreds -- at least for the ninth race.
The $40,000 Marlboro Cup was a spruced-up allowance race, but Arnold and Sylvia Heft weren't discussing semantics after Baldski's Choice took the $24,000 nut by winning for the second straight year.
Baldski's Choice was the subject of a Maryland record when Jerry Robb spent $75,000 of the Hefts' money to claim him in 1989. Having earned more than double his cost, Baldski's Choice broke Marlboro's track record as emphatically as a horse can, his one-mile time of 1:38 4/5 trimming 5 2/5 seconds off the mark for the seldom-run distance.
All 10 races were timed by hand.
The victory gave Robb a $1,500 award as most proficient trainer (on a 5-3-1 basis for top three finishers) over the two Wednesdays at Marlboro. Tony DeSilva earned the $1,000 jockey bonus.
Greg Hutton has made good use of Marlboro the past two years: two races, two wins on Baldski's Choice. The compact five-eighths-mile track is kind to inside horses, and Baldski's Choice's speed compounds that advantage.
Baldski's Choice took the lead turning into the stretch (the first time) and turned back all comers -- including Maryland Classic-winner Timely Warning and the notable Finder's Choice -- en route to a five-length triumph.
Bolting Holme, an 8-year-old who is among the leaders this year with 10 victories, pushed past Timely Warning in the stretch (the second time) to take second. It was a farewell of sorts for his trainer, Jim Woods, who will begin a six-month suspension today for having removed a horse from a race at Delaware Park minutes before post time.
Marlboro's stretch is only 665 feet long -- about an eighth-mile -- but not too short to prevent announcer Dave Johnson's familiar cry of "And down the stretch they come!" as Baldski's Choice passed the stands.
"There are few things in life that are certain -- death, taxes and 'Down the stretch they come,' " Johnson said. "This is the backbone of racing. It puts back an element into racing that's lacking at most tracks: fun."
At Marlboro, horses can get by on looks alone; the track gave $100 each day to the groom whose runner was determined best-looking by paddock judge Mark Euga. (This was made a bit more difficult in the second race, when water trucks passed horses being walked to the paddock and sprayed several of them.) Marc Sharp won last week for Full Security, Mary Ella Morris yesterday for Barbara's Cutlass.
With another sunny day and triple betting in every race, a crowd of 9,813 wagered more than on any of the four post-renaissance days at Marlboro: $508,281. The two-day handle totaled $885,000, of which about $71,000 will go toward the equestrian center's therapeutic riding program.
"They still should conduct 20-, 30-day meets at places like this just as a freshener," said trainer Eddie Gaudet, who got a $20.40 victory and a track record out of Redevette in the eighth race. "It's such a relieving thing to come here without all the pressure. You look around and nobody's sad. Even the losers are happy."