Updated on 09/17/2011 10:28PM

Million features six returning champs

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Presidentialaffair, winning the McKay in April, will go for his second straight Million Classic win.

LAUREL, Md. - Presidentialaffair has one tactic - go to the lead and see how far it takes him. On Saturday at Laurel Park, he will try it again as he seeks to win the Maryland Million Classic for the second year in a row.

The 20th Maryland Million - a $1.48 million festival restricted to horses by Maryland-based sires - will feature five other defending champions among 112 entrants.

Drum Roll Please makes his seventh start since winning last year's Sprint Starter Handicap. Dixie Colony, after being claimed three times, returns for the Starter Handicap. My Poker Player ships in from New York to defend his Sprint title. Namequest, a 9-year-old, won the 2004 Turf Sprint Handicap but hasn't won since. Last year's upset winner of the Maryland Million Turf, Dr. Detroit, comes in off three losing efforts this year and takes on 11 rivals.

will be trying to join three other horses who have won the Classic two years in a row: Timely Warning in 1990 and 1991, Algar in 1997 and 1998, Docent in 2002 and 2003.

Owned by Edward Ciresa and Vincent Papandrea, Presidentialaffair has won 10 times in his 25-race career, earning $670,970. Trained by Martin Ciresa and ridden by Stewart Elliott, Presidentialaffair is the 9-5 morning-line favorite despite three losses in a row. He retreated in his last start, the Phillip Iselin Breeders' Cup at Monmouth Aug. 28, finishing fourth, beaten 10 lengths.

"It's basically the same scenario," Ciresa said. "He ran a couple of clinkers against better going into this race last year. Last year, I knew it was going to be his last race of the year, because he was having issues. This year, I don't think so. He's doing a little better. I have him on the right track."

Not that it's been easy. Ciresa twice shipped Presidentialaffair to New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square, Pa., for veterinary once-overs, and even sent him to the farm to try to figure out why the horse wasn't right.

"I just couldn't find what was wrong," Ciresa said. "It's been a much more difficult year trying to find out what's making him tick. We did a nuclear scan at New Bolton because I knew I was missing something. It ended up being a high suspensory behind. We fixed that, and it was like night and day."

Presidentialaffair made light work of last year's field, easily holding off Aggadan and Irish Colony.

"In this day and age, it's amazing to see a horse run three years in a row," Ciresa said. "Being competitive each year is just a feat. I know he's mine, but he's the toughest horse I've ever seen. A lot of horses get injured and they're not running any more - 'That hurts, I'm not doing it any more.' With this horse, it's heart when he's not right - 'Fix me, and I'll run again.' He wants to fight with every rider, every horse, every day. That's what he lives for - nothing bothers him. He sucks it up and goes to the track."

Presidentialaffair faces six foes in the $250,000 Classic, including Aggadan. Trained by Richard Dutrow Jr., returns for his third straight Maryland Million start and comes off three straight seconds.

Cherokee's Boy, the third choice in the field, won the Salvator Mile and the Skip Away at Monmouth this summer, both over Aggadan. Trained by Gary Capuano, failed to fire in his last start, the Charles Hadry, where he finished third. He is the leading earner in the field with $845,596.

The Maryland Million Turf attracted six horses in 2004, but entries doubled this year with a solid field of 12, including last year's winner, Dr. Detroit; the 2002 winner, La Reine's Terms; the 2004 runner-up, Private Scandal; 11-time winner Irish Colony; and 12-time winner One Eyed Joker.

A 10-year-old trained by Larry Murray, La Reine's Terms makes his sixth start in the Turf. Owned and bred by Sondra and Howard Bender, La Reine's Terms won by a neck in 2002, missed all of 2003 with an injury, and finished third in last year's edition. He makes his first start since that effort.

square off again in the Maryland Million Sprint. Trained by Bruce Levine, My Poker Player upheld his role as the favorite in last year's edition, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Crossing Point. Levine claimed My Poker Player at Del Mar two races before the victory. Owned by Roddy Valente, My Poker Player has gone 1 for 6 since that race and has yet to win this year in four tries.

Crossing Point, 8, makes his third straight start in the Maryland Million and tries to step off the runner-up spot after two straight seconds. Trained by Ben Feliciano Jr., Crossing Point has 15 wins and has been freshened since finishing third in an optional claimer at Pimlico in August.