Marty Ciresa doesn't live in Maryland, doesn't train in Maryland, and his big horse -- Presidentialaffair -- isn't even Maryland bred. But Saturday, the 43-year-old trainer from Oxford, Pa., dearly would love to see the gelding win the $200,000 Maryland Million Classic at Pimlico Race Course.
"We lost in a duel last year [in the Classic] with Docent, and they never even posted the photo," Ciresa said Wednesday afternoon after 5-year-old Presidentialaffair drew the outside post and was made the 4-5 favorite to win the centerpiece of the Maryland Million program. "I really want to win this race."
Presidentialaffair gets to run in the 19th Maryland Million because, although bred in Pennsylvania, his sire, the superlative Not for Love, stands stud at Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City, Md. The event, which celebrates the Maryland racing industry and spotlights offspring of the state's stallions, drew 127 horses for the 12-race card.
Ciresa, a third-generation horseman based at Philadelphia Park, is a frequent invader of Maryland tracks. Most notably, his T P Louie won the Maryland Million Nursery in 2000 and Little Matth Man finished eighth behind Smarty Jones at odds of 45-1 this spring in the Preakness Stakes.
Presidentialaffair is a horse Ciresa bought for $25,000 as a yearling, lost to another trainer in a fallout with the owner last year, and then, through his father, claimed back for himself in a $20,000 race at Monmouth Park.
"He was a stakes horse running in a claimer," said Ciresa, who promptly went about proving it.
In his second race back with Ciresa, Presidentialaffair won a six-furlong race in just under 1 minute 9 seconds -- sizzling time -- at Monmouth Park. In the following race, the trainer stretched the horse out to 1 mile 70 yards and watched him equal the track record. That set the stage for the Maryland Million Classic battle with two-time winner Docent, and the horses dueled the length of the stretch before Presidentialaffair lost by a nose.
This year, Presidentialaffair broke the Monmouth Park 1 mile 70 yards track record in the Skip Away Stakes then took the Grade III Salvatore Mile. The victory emboldened Ciresa, who entered his front-runner in the 11/8 th-mile Iselin Breeders' Cup, a $200,000 race at Monmouth, against Ghostzapper, perhaps the fastest horse in the country.
In an electrifying showcase on a sloppy track, Presidentialaffair ran the first six furlongs in a blazing 1:09.77 before Ghostzapper raced past him and won by 103/4 lengths. The performance earned the winner the highest Beyer Speed Figure (128) since the numbers first began appearing in the Daily Racing Form in 1992.
Even with Ghostzapper running out of his mind, Ciresa knew something was wrong with his horse.
"Turning for home, Presidentialaffair always puts up a fight and he didn't," Ciresa said. "He came out of the race with an abscess in his right [front] foot."
When the abscess healed, Ciresa threw Presidentialaffair in against Ghostzapper and other top horses on Sept. 11 in the historic Grade I Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park.
Presidentialaffair was crushed, finishing last and losing by 36 lengths. Ciresa, however, says he found an abscess in the other front hoof after the race and insists the horse is ready for the Maryland Million Classic, a far easier assignment without the likes of Ghostzapper around.
"If I won the Woodward, I was going to think about the Breeders' Cup," Ciresa said. "But my prep for that was still going to be the [Maryland Million] Classic."
Asked if the abscesses are still a problem, Ciresa joked, "Not in those two feet, but he still has two to go."