Down in the Laurel Park paddock before the jockeys saddled up for the $150,000 Maryland Million Turf, the old grass horse La Reine's Terms clearly had forgotten his age.
Jeremy Rose, who rose to fame this past summer as the rider of Afleet Alex in the Triple Crown, wasn't quite sure he was about to get on the back of a 10-year-old.
"I said to [trainer] Larry [Murray] he looks like a 2-year-old," Rose said of La Reine's Terms. "He was jumping and squealing."
La Reine's Terms hadn't raced since finishing third in the Maryland Million last year, 371 days ago, but he didn't forget how to run. Stalking a fast pace set by Bingobear for a mile, La Reine's Terms surged to the lead under the whip of Rose coming off the far turn and held on to win the 11/8-mile grass race by three-quarters of a length. He won over the yielding turf in 1 minute 51.60 seconds. Dr. Detroit, who won the race last year, finished second.
Murray, who was convinced this summer that a listless La Reine's Terms had run his last race, looked stunned as he posed for the winner's circle photograph after his horse became the oldest winner in the 20-year history of the Maryland Million.
"I told the rider who's always on him in June and July he's done, but we'll keep him at the racetrack," said Murray, the private trainer for owners Howard and Sondra Bender of Bethesda. "This was a gutsy performance because I didn't think he had enough in him to do it."
La Reine's Terms won the Maryland Million Turf in 2002, but after a stirring victory in a $250,000 race in Texas that December, he missed 18 months with a variety of nagging injuries. Murray and the Benders called his comeback last June in an allowance race at Colonial Downs, one of the most emotional races of their lives, but the victory yesterday -- his 16th in 40 lifetime starts -- topped it.
"We've had some nice horses over the course of the past 20 years -- King's Nest, Secret Odds, Clever Power -- but this horse has lasted so long it makes it special," said Sondra Bender, the left side of her face sporting a big lipstick kiss. "He's a stayer. He's still a horse."