Eighttofasttocatch ignored the rain, mud and closing horses to win the $150,000 Classic, the biggest race of the afternoon, and set off a joyous celebration in the winner’s circle at Laurel Park.

Owned by Arnold Heft, 92, and his wife Sylvia, Eighttofasttocatch represented their long-time search for a champion.

“Though I owned the Bullets and the Capitals with Mr. Abe Pollin, we never really had a champion,” Arnold Heft said. “This has to be the biggest thing for my wife and me. This is my first real champion and I’m 92 years old.”

Sylvia Heft, couldn’t stop smiling. She kissed everyone who wished her congratulations.

“We’ve been in horse racing and sports a long time,” she said. “This has to be the best day we’ve ever had.”

A crowd of 20,907 came out on an overcast day to watch the 26th running of the Jim McKay Maryland Million Day at the races. Cool from the start, the weather turned wet late in the afternoon and by the time the Classic ran the track surface was getting deep, though it remained fast.

Eighttofasttocatch’s jockey, Sheldon Russell, said his horse was not bothered by rain or the wet track. And it showed as he closed the gap on the leader heading into the stretch and then pulled away for a 13 / 4-length victory.

The 5-year-old Not For Love chestnut gelding, bred by Dark Hollow Farm and Herringswell Stable, finished the 11 / 8-mile course in 1:50.65 and paid $3.60. He was trailed across the finish line by Cactus Charlie, and Not Abroad, another length and a half back.

“He’s run in slop and won,” said Russell of his comfortable ride. “The key for him is to relax. I got him to switch off and then he came back running. It was just about the perfect race.”

Though it didn’t start out quite that way. Starting from the No. 5 post, Eighttofasttocatch was in perfect position for a fast break and he had one. He shot from the gate and found himself in the lead as the first turn approached.

“I was a little concerned when the speed horse didn’t break,” said Russell. “But then the seven (Regal Warrior) went to the front and my horse settled in. He likes to be about three lengths off the lead and five is even better.”

In the grandstands, trainer Tim Keefe had the same early discomfort. But he was too relaxed when Regal Warrior took a six-length lead by the half-mile.

“My horse broke okay and he drug me to the lead,” Regal Warrior’s jockey, Jorge Chavez, said. “I tried to slow him down, but he just gave up.”

— Baltimore Sun