09/09/2010 3:13PM

Maryland Million day still standing tall


In the absence of its premier fall stakes, the Frank De Francis Memorial Dash, Laurel Park will rely on its lush turf course and Jim McKay Maryland Million Day to create some excitement during a 57-day day meet that begins Saturday and continues through Dec. 18.

The De Francis Dash, downgraded from Grade 1 to Grade 2 status, has been put on hiatus for the second time in the last three years to divert its $300,000 purse into overnight races.

Without the Dash, Laurel will offer 19 stakes worth a collective $1.45 million, with most of the money and action packed into the 25th Jim McKay Maryland Million Day on Oct. 2. The event, second only to the Preakness on Maryland’s racing calendar, has attracted crowds of 20,000 or more in 20 of its previous 24 runnings. McKay, the Hall of Fame broadcaster, proposed the concept of a day devoted to the offspring of Maryland stallions – the first of its kind – and remained chairman of the board until his death in June 2008.

The 11-stakes package will be headlined by the $150,000 Classic at 1 1/8 miles.

As long as the weather cooperates, Laurel will make ample use of its 142-foot wide turf course, where the rails can be moved to allow for six different configurations. Saturday’s opening card features four races scheduled for turf, including an all-turf late pick three on races 8-10. The four grass events drew 50 horses in the main body of the fields, plus two entered for the main track only, and nine also-eligibles. The smallest of the turf fields comes in race 9, a first-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles, which attracted 11 horses. Not counting main track only or also-eligibles, the three other grass races have 13, 14, and 12 runners.

Unfortunately for bettors, the opening-day feature, the $50,000 Geisha at one mile for Maryland-bred fillies and mares, is listed for the main track and lured just five horses

The prime contenders look like Love’s Blush, who drops into statebred company for the first time since winning the All Brandy last November, and Fascinatin’ Rhythm, a versatile mare who ended a 13-race losing streak when she captured the Jameela, a six-furlong turf sprint, last month.

Love’s Blush has been competitive against open stakes company early this season, finishing second in both the Ladies at Aqueduct and the Maryland Racing Media at Laurel.

Fascinatin’ Rhythm has been primarily a sprinter in her 22-race career, including a third in the 2009 running of the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie, but she did match her career high with a Beyer Speed Figure of 88 in the one-mile Nellie Morse in January 2009.

The field includes Blind Date, who has yet to match her solid 2009 form, in which she won the Grade 3 Virginia Oaks and the Pearl Necklace and just missed in the Maryland Million Oaks. She is 0 for 4 this season and has not finished better than fourth, though two of her races were at the Grade 3 stakes level.