10/20/2005 11:00PM

Ladies win brightens dark time for Pons family

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Play Bingo, by Polish Numbers, went last to first in the $250,000 Classic.

The 20th anniversary of the Maryland Million, the innovative program that shifts racing's focus onto Maryland's stallions and farms, was emotional, thrilling, and, at times, nearly unbelievable.

Delayed one week when torrential rain forced Laurel Park to cancel racing on its scheduled date, this year's Maryland Million, which offered $1.48 million in purses, was conducted on Oct. 15. The weather was perfect, and the event attracted 102 runners for its 12-race card.

The Pons family of Country Life Farm has numerous Maryland Million memories, but none could top this year. Three days after losing patriarch Joe Pons, who died at the farm on Oct. 12 at age 83, the family gathered in one of the senior Pons's favorite places, the winner's circle, following the 17-1 upset by Country Life homebred Surf Light in the $150,000 Maryland Million Ladies.

The first turn of events for the Ladies was the scratch of heavy favorite Love Match. Then Surf Light, a daughter of former Country Life sire Malibu Moon, displayed uncustomary speed to shoot to the front in the 1 1/8-mile turf race. It seemed impossible at the top of the stretch that she would hold off the six behind her, but the gray filly trained by Flint Stites was never threatened, winning by nearly two lengths.

"What a special day - the first without Dad, but he was riding and roping that last sixteenth of a mile," said Mike Pons, president of the Maryland Million.

Surf Light was one of five winners for Country Life Farm stallions. The Maryland Million's all-time leader, the late Allen's Prospect, boosted his total to 19 with three winners. The first came when the 5-year-old gelding Foxs Gold Digger, the odds-on favorite, got up in first race, the $30,000 Sprinter Starter Handicap, to give owner-trainer Hubert Cave his initial stakes win. The final race of the day, the $50,000 Distaff Starter Handicap, was won by Marley Hart, a 5-year-old mare who races for JWD Racing and Hunting Ground Farm and is trained by Joseph Delozier.

In between was the easiest of winners. Sarah's Prospect, the only 3-year-old in the field of 11 in the $100,000 Turf Sprint, strolled to a nearly nine-length victory for owner Michael Gill and trainer Mark Shuman.

The $250,000 Classic saw defending champion and favorite Presidentialaffair fade in the stretch, while Play Bingo, a son of Northview Stallion Station's late Polish Numbers, went from last to first for owner Eugene Dixon's Erdenheim Farm and trainer John Fisher. The 4-year-old colt was bred by Dark Hollow Farm and William Beatson.

For the fourth year in a row, Not for Love, Northview Stallion Station's leading sire, got two winners on the card. Five-year-old Saay Mi Name became Not for Love's third consecutive winner of the $150,000 Sprint with his score for owner-trainer Wayne Bailey. And the Tony Dutrow-trained 2-year-old filly Smart and Fancy drew off to easily take the $125,000 Lassie for Win and Place Stable.

Tom Bowman and his wife, Chris, bred the Lassie winner, as well as $125,000 Nursery winner Creve Coeur, a son of Northview Stallion Station's Lion Hearted who is owned by Eugene Ford and was sent out by Graham Motion. That score was bittersweet for the Bowmans, however, since they also bred and still own X Marks the Spot, who crossed the line first and was disqualified to second.

The $150,000 Turf attracted a field of nine, including two former winners, La Reine's Terms (2002) and Dr Detroit (2004). They ran one-two. The previous start for La Reine's Terms had been the 2004 Turf, in which he finished third, and the 10-year-old was all but retired. But trainer Larry Murray kept the gelding at the barn "because he likes being there," Murray said. "He started to tell us he wanted to run again, so we stepped up the training on him."

La Reine's Terms, a son of Private Terms owned by Sondra and Howard Bender, is now the oldest horse to win a Maryland Million race.

"I don't train him," said Murray. "I think he trains us."

Owner-breeder David O'Neill and trainer Keith Lebarron were glad to have an extra week to run in the Maryland Million. Their Valley Crossing mare, Valley of the Gods, stayed at her home base of Philadelphia Park on Oct. 8 to win the Pistol Packer Handicap, then took the $150,000 Distaff Handicap for fillies and mares as the 6-5 favorite, defeating another Valley Crossing mare, Blind Canyon. Valley Crossing formerly stood at Bonita Farm.

Trainer Richard Small sent out Sticky, a daughter of former Northview stallion Concern, to win the Maryland Million Oaks for longtime leading Maryland owner-breeder Robert Meyerhoff, who also bred the 3-year-old filly's sire and stakes-winning dam, Hair Spray. Dixie Colony defended his title when he took his second consecutive Starter Handicap for Debra Kachel. A son of Country Life stallion Citidancer, Dixie Colony had been claimed away from Kachel in May, but she got him back in his start before the Maryland Million in September.