10/11/2001 12:00AM

Delp gunning for first Million

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Trainer Buddy Delp, a longtime fixture in Maryland racing, will try to win his first Maryland Million race Saturday at Pimlico Race Course with Concerned Minister, who will be the favorite in the $200,000 Classic.

The 1 3/16-mile Classic is the richest race on the 11-race card, which gets under way at 12:35 p.m. Eastern.

The Maryland Million races, worth more than $1 million in purse money, are restricted to the progeny of Maryland-based and nominated stallions.

Concerned Minister is the horse to beat among the nine older males entered in the Classic. Also in the field is last year's winner, Testing, in his fifth Classic appearance, and the third-place finisher, P Day.

Concerned Minister, who is owned by Robert Meyerhoff, finished fifth as the favorite in the 2000 Classic when he was 3. Delp said Concerned Minister had a two-length lead with three-sixteenths remaining, but stopped when his air shut down.

The gelding underwent throat surgery after the Classic and in his first race back in the Tenacious Stakes at Fair Grounds last December, Concerned Minister crushed four rivals with his 11 3/4-length margin of victory. He earned a 121 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort, which was tops among 3-year-olds last year and the second-highest Beyer overall.

Concerned Minister ran back 27 days later and finished third in the Louisiana Handicap. He returned with multiple chips in his ankles and underwent arthroscopic surgery.

Delp said Concerned Minister's return to the races was delayed this year because the gelding required another throat surgery. When Concerned Minister finally got back to the races in August, Delp was pleased with results. In his first start, Concerned Minister finished third in an optional claimer on the grass at Delaware Park, a race that made him eligible to run back in a dirt stakes on Owners' Day at Delaware on Sept. 8, which he won by a length.

Concerned Minister's 112 Beyer Figure in that race is easily tops in the Classic field.

"The Maryland Million was our main objective when he came back," Delp said Thursday from his barn at Laurel Park. "He wasn't dead-fit in his first race, but he got a lot out of it. And now he's trained so good after his last race.

"This horse has learned to relax; he used to be a little hyper," Delp added. "He's started to settle down and has a more laid-back attitude."

Mario Pino, aboard Concerned Minister in his two starts this year, has the return mount. Concerned Minister, who has a ton of early speed, drew the outside post.

* In the $100,000 Turf, a well-matched field of 12 have been entered in the 1 1/8-mile race. Cynics Beware, who won the Turf last year, looks like he is up against it after going without a win in seven races since last year's Turf. La Reine's Terms, a horse for the course, is the one to beat.

* In the $100,000 Sprint at six furlongs, Scott Lake, the leading trainer in wins in the country, sends out C C's Honor, a seven-time winner at the distance, against seven others.

* New York shipper Final Table, who won the Comet Stakes at The Meadowlands in his last start, meets Ameri Brilliance, a big maiden winner at Pimlico, in the $100,000 Nursery, a six-furlong race for 2-year-olds.

* The $100,000 Lassie drew a field of eight 2-year-old fillies. Night Breeze, 2 for 2 at Pimlico, and New York shipper Madame X Ski, are the top choices.

* Caveat's Shot, the defending champion in the $100,000 Ladies, is one of 10 fillies and mares entered in this year's running. The 1 1/8-mile Ladies will be run on the turf.

* Seven 3-year-old fillies square off in the $100,000 Oaks, which lacks a clear-cut favorite.

* Ten filly and mare sprinters meet in the wide-open $100,000 Distaff.

* Also on the card is a $50,000 Sweepstakes and a pair of $50,000 starter handicaps.