08/19/2004 11:00PM

Maryland Million adds turf sprint

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Don't let the sweltering summer heat fool you. It's not too early to start planning for Maryland Million Day 2004. The 19th running of the event will be held on Oct. 9 at Pimlico.

Condition books recently went in the mail for what has become one of the biggest days on Maryland's racing calendar. A celebration of the Maryland breeding industry - highlighting the state's stallions - Maryland Million Day 2004 will be the richest in its history, as a total of 12 races will be offered worth a combined $1.125 million.

New to the schedule is the $100,000 Maryland Million Turf Sprint, at five furlongs for 3-year-olds and up. Maryland Million's executive director, Cricket Goodall, notes the conditions for the new race were selected due to the popularity of turf racing.

"With the additional race, we would expect numbers of entries to be strong for the day," Goodall said.

Last year, 11 races drew a total of 163 entrants.

This year's card will feature eight races with $100,000 purses; two starter handicaps worth $50,000 apiece; a starter handicap for $25,000; and the biggest prize of the day, the $200,000 Maryland Million Classic. In addition, a total of $25,000 in premium awards will be added to the purses for Maryland Million nominees who compete at the Shawan Downs steeplechase meet in Hunt Valley, Md., on Sept. 25.

Two-time Classic winner Docent, a son of Northview Stallion Station's Waquoit, will be seeking the hat trick in this year's Classic, which would also make him the winningest Maryland Million participant in history. Docent also took the Maryland Million Sweepstakes as a 3-year-old in 2001.

After two subpar efforts in his most recent starts, Docent will be given a break, said trainer Tim Ritchey, with the Maryland Million his main goal.

"Hopefully we can pull it off," said Ritchey. "If he doesn't make it this year, he is only 6, so we can try to do it next year."

Ritchey is going for a record as well in the day's featured event, having won three consecutive Classics, the first with Pennsylvania-bred Sumerset in 2001, tying the accomplishment of Buddy Raines.

"It is a great day of racing, a showcase for Maryland stallions," said Ritchey, who may have as many as five runners for the card.

The Maryland Million is a program that developed from an idea that came to famed sports announcer Jim McKay on his return from the inaugural Breeders' Cup in 1984. Within two years, the idea became reality, with Laurel Park the site of the first Maryland Million. The races are restricted to the nominated offspring of Maryland sires. Stallions must have been nominated to the program the year the foals are conceived. Nominations to the Maryland Million program have remained strong, despite declines in foal crop numbers in Maryland in recent years, Goodall said.

Contrary to popular belief, the races are not restricted to Maryland-breds. Foals are eligible regardless of where they are born. The majority of runners have been born in the state, and in the history of the event, 76 percent of the winners are Maryland-breds.

Maryland Million Day is often a launching pad for a young stallion's career, and the Pons family's Country Life Farm has seen the results, ever since their leading sires Carnivalay and Allen's Prospect made Maryland Million news with their first crops (in 1989 and 1990). This year, Country Life Farm will be represented by freshman sire Unbridled Jet.

Northview Stallion Station's Lion Hearted, currently the leading 2-year-old sire in Maryland, also has eligible runners, as does Northview's other freshman sire Crowd Pleaser.

The speedy Purple Passion, who stands at Shamrock Farms, and Cat Country of Elberton Hill are other first-year sires who could stamp themselves as stars on the rise with a good Maryland Million Day.