03/30/2007 12:00AM

Maryland Million program richer than ever


Maryland's breeding industry is facing greater competition than ever from its slots-rich neighbors. But Maryland still outdoes every state in the region when it comes to the quality of its stallions. And that can be attributed, in large part, to the Maryland Million.

The Maryland Million is not just maintaining its status quo, but actually expanding.

Already the premier sire stakes program in the nation, it will distribute a record $1.7 million in purses and nominator awards on this year's Maryland Million Day, Oct. 13 at Laurel Park.

In addition, nearly $1 million will be offered for Maryland Million-

eligible runners competing in other stakes at Maryland tracks throughout this year.

"It's no longer a one-day program," said Wayne Harrison, newly elected president of Maryland Million Ltd.

A resounding success from its inaugural running in 1986, the Maryland Million received a significant boost in 2004, when legislation was enacted to provide it with additional funding, derived from a portion of the revenue from in-state wagering on Maryland races.

The impact of that windfall can be measured in many ways.

Purses for three Maryland Million Day events will rise in 2007 - the Classic (to $300,000) and the Ladies and Turf (to $200,000 each).

Pimlico's opening on April 21, will feature the Spring Festival of Racing, which for the third year in a row will offer an array of opportunities for Maryland Million-eligible runners: three stakes restricted to Maryland-breds or Maryland Million nominees, plus enhancements to the unrestricted Jim McKay Sprint and the state's major Triple Crown prep, the Federico Tesio Stakes.

In addition, Maryland Million-restricted stakes will be run on the undercard of both the Preakness and the Frank J. De Francis Dash.

Last but certainly not least, this year all of Laurel and Pimlico's unrestricted stakes with a purse of less than $100,000 offer purse enhancements for Maryland Million-eligible participants.

"It's as if Maryland has two Super Bowls - the Preakness and Maryland Million," said Harrison, the longtime Maryland-based owner-breeder who recently succeeded Mike Pons as the president of Maryland Million.

Harrison is a roofing and sheet metal contractor by profession, as the proprietor of H.T. Harrison and Sons in Rockville, Md. But he has a strong background in the horse business as well. He had served as the Maryland Million's vice-president since 2003, and was co-owner of the 1995 Maryland Million Classic winner, Brilliant Patriot.

Harrison's best racing success in the last several years has come as co-owner of multiple stakes winner Plata.

The slate of Maryland Million officers underwent an additional change as David DiPietro was elected to succeed Harrison as vice-president, while Katy Voss continues to serve as secretary-treasurer.

DiPietro, an investment banker who makes his home in Owings Mills, Md., is a founding partner in the Maryland Stallion Station, the establishment in Glyndon that opened to great acclaim for the 2005 breeding season and stands eight young stallions.

As with every stallion operation in the state, Maryland Stallion Station's leadership is keenly aware of the benefits of the Maryland Million.

"It's the best promotional tool Maryland has to offer for a young sire," said Maryland Stallion Station's president, Don Litz, noting that two of the Maryland Stallion Station's horses - Rock Slide and Seeking Daylight - have their first crop of 2-year-olds coming to the races in 2007, and some of those juveniles will be pointing to Maryland Million Day races.

"A win in the Maryland Million gives an immediate - and quantifiable - boost to the number of stallion contracts coming in," said Litz.

To be eligible for the Maryland Million, a horse must be sired by a stallion standing in Maryland in the year of conception. A prospective Maryland Million nominee need not be a Maryland-bred - that is, foaled in the state. Both the foal and the sire, however, must be registered for the program.

The latest possible date that a runner may be nominated is July 31 of the 2-year-old season (a deadline that was extended as of this year). Once nominated, the runner is eligible for life.

More information on the program is available from the Maryland Million office at 410-252-2100, via e-mail to info@marylandthoroughbred.com, or at www.marylandthoroughbred.com.