10/05/2003 11:00PM

Million day heats up autumn


Laurel Park, which opens its fall meet Wednesday, will play host to the 18th annual Maryland Million this weekend, a series of 11 races based on a format similar to the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.

More than 160 offspring of Maryland-based stallions have been pre-entered in Saturday's Maryland Million races. The post position draw is scheduled for Wednesday. The fall meet will run through Dec. 31.

In addition to Maryland Million Day, Laurel's fall meet is highlighted by the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash. The De Francis Dash, first run in 1990, is a Grade 1 and offers a purse of $300,000.

There are five other stakes on the De Francis Dash card, including a pair of Grade 3 races, the Laurel Futurity and the Anne Arundel for 3-year-old fillies, plus the $100,000 Selima for 2-year-old fillies.

There are three other six-figure stakes on the schedule. The $100,000 Geisha Handicap for fillies and mares on turf will be held Nov. 29. A pair of $100,000 stakes for 2-year-old Maryland-breds will close out the year on Dec. 31, the Maryland Juvenile Championship and the Maryland Juvenile Fillies Championship.

The Maryland Million program's top race is the $200,000 Classic, a 1 3/16-mile race for older horses. Docent, last year's Classic winner who has come back strong this season with 5 wins in 7 starts, heads a group of 11 pre-entered runners.

Two other Maryland Million winners are also expected to run back.

Deer Run is among 15 runners pre-entered in the $100,000 Sprint. He has yet to regain his form of last season when he won the Sprint and finished second in the De Francis. He is 0 for 3 so far this season.

Coquettish won last year's Maryland Million Juvenile Fillies, but is 0 for 6 in 2003. She is pre-entered in both the $100,000 Oaks for 3-year-old fillies and the $100,000 Ladies for older fillies and mares.

Wednesday's opening-day card has five races with fields of 10 or more. The feature, an optional claiming race for filly and mare sprinters, is led by Time is Money, a 5-year-old seeking her third straight win since coming to Scott Lake's barn.