Howard and Sondra Bender left the Maryland-North Carolina State football game during the third quarter yesterday to get to Laurel Park in time to see their gray gelding Boca Flyer run the $60,000 Humphrey S. Finney Stakes.

After the horse survived an epic stretch duel to win in a photo finish, Sondra Bender knew they had made the right decision. "We listened to the fourth quarter in the car," she said. "And this is much more exciting, anyway."

Jockey Horatio Karamanos also made a decision yesterday that paid off. The Benders and their trainer Larry Murray offered the 29-year-old Argentinean rider the mount on Media Access, a stakes-winning filly they were running at Aqueduct in the Grade III Athenia Handicap. He chose to stay home and ride Boca Flyer, while Media Access never reached serious contention and finished out of the money.

"I got a lot of calls here," Karamanos said, "and I still got to ride for Sondra."

It's been that kind of year for the Benders. The Bethesda couple, long prominent breeders at their Glade Valley Farm in Frederick County, have won 10 stakes races this year, all with horses off the farm.

Boca Flyer, a son of Kentucky stallion El Prado and the Benders' mare Bocamis, finished third in two stakes races this summer and broke through yesterday.

While favorite Hay Getoutofmyway, runner-up in the Maryland Million Classic, fought to put away pacesetters Goldenalden's Card and The Sewickley Kid, Karamanos bided his time behind them, stalking the pace.

When Hay Getoutofmyway secured the lead after six furlongs, Boca Flyer swung into action, circling the other horses on the turn and engaging the leader in the stretch. The two battled side by side, but Boca Flyer got up in the end.

"You hate to see a horse lose when he tried so hard," said Hay Getoutofmyway's rider, Ryan Fogelsonger. "I went back and looked at the photo, and you can't even call that a nose; it was a whisker."

Boca Flyer ran the 11/8-mile race for Maryland-bred 3-year-olds in 1 minute 51.68 seconds for the third win of his career.

Racing Notes: The move of the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash last year from July to November to catch sprinters coming out of the Breeders' Cup doesn't appear to be paying off this year. Only Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up Thunderello appears to be committed to the $300,000 race, one of only two Grade I stakes races run in Maryland this year.

Two Grade II winners D'Wildcat and Avanzado appear to be coming in from California for the De Francis.

The relative weak quality of the field, however, has tempted trainer John Salzman to consider entering his champion filly Xtra Heat, who missed nine days of training after the Breeders' Cup as she was prepared for auction in Kentucky and later sold privately.