Updated on 09/15/2011 1:14PM

Quixotic Million thriller


BALTIMORE - Every Thoroughbred trainer dreams of claiming a horse and turning him into a stakes winner, but few have ever accomplished the feat as rapidly and dramatically as Tim Ritchey did today.

Just 13 days ago, Ritchey spent $50,000 for the 4-year-old colt Sumerset, and the investment didn't look like a good one when he was soundly beaten at Delaware Park. But this afternoon Sumerset rallied explosively at Pimlico Race Course and scored a shocking 30-1 upset in the $200,000 Maryland Million Classic, as the odds-on favorite, Concerned Minister, faded to finish seventh.

Sumerset was abetted by jockey Jeremy Rose, who delivered a flawless ride, steering his mount to the rail in the first few strides and saving ground around both turns. When the front-runner Lightning Paces left the rail open in the stretch, Rose drove Sumerset inside him and, whipping furiously, overhauled the leader to win by a neck, with Pat Day third.

The result lit up the tote board with a $769.20 exacta and a $3681.40 trifecta, and it was only one of many hard-to-foresee results on this day of races for offspring of Maryland stallions.

The 2-year-old colt Pal's Prospect won the Nursery at 14-1, while the 2-year old filly Night Breeze captured the Lassie. Jorgie Stover rallied to pull off a 17-1 shocker in the Sprint, while Case of the Blues beat filly sprinters in the Distaff Handicap.

The 3-year-old filly Along Came Mary knocked off an odds-on favorite in the Oaks. Elberton and Stal Quest scored front-running victories in the day's two grass races, the Turf and the Ladies.

But even on a day of upsets, nothing could match the implausibility of the main event. Gregg Fral, who owns a stable with his brother Eric, had suggested claiming Sumerset because he had been foaled in Pennsylvania, and was thus eligible for statebred races there. But as a son of Allen's Prospect, the leading stallion in Maryland, he was eligible for the Million, too. When Ritchey started working with the colt, he said, "I made quite a few changes. I changed his shoes. I changed his equipment and I changed his atmosphere and environment."

After he saw that Sumerset was responding, he entered him in the Classic, hoping for an in-the-money finish. Challenging Concerned Minister with a claiming horse appeared to be a quixotic venture, because the favorite had powerful credentials, having won six of his 11 starts as the front-runner.

But when the gate opened, jockey Mario Pino elected to alter the favorite's usual game plan. He allowed Lightning Paces and Big Becker to go to the lead, setting a moderate pace, while he put Concerned Minister under restraint and stalked the pacesetters. Another jockey had attempted similar tactics with Concerned Minister in last year's Million, with dismal results.

While Pino was riding patiently, the 22-year-old Rose moved aggressively to get his mount on the rail, within striking distance of the leaders, and stayed there all the way. On the final turn, Concerned Minister drew abreast of Lightning Paces, and looked momentarily as if he were going to draw away to a widely anticipated victory. But Lighting Paces repulsed the bid, and Concerned Minister abruptly gave up. Lightning had command only briefly, until Sumerset and Rose charged inside him.

Night Breeze impresses in Lassie

One of the day's most notable other performances was in the Lassie. Night Breeze had won her first two starts as the front-runner but appeared to have serious front-running competition in this field. But she sped away from her seven rivals by running the first half-mile in 45.85 seconds, and scored a 1 3/4-length victory, indicating that trainer Graham Motion's filly has a bright future ahead of her.

The most eventful race of the day was the Turf. As Elberton sprinted to the lead, Tapaditty was sitting on the rail behind him, but jockey Mario Verge was having trouble controlling his mount. At the first turn Tapaditty swerved abruptly and smashed into the horses outside him. One of his victims was La Reine's Terms, the 2-1 favorite, who was pushed to the outside fence and eliminated from contention. Jockey Albert Delgado was able to control the pace and guide Elberton to a 2 1/4-length victory over Watchman's Warning. Favorite players may have been stunned by that result, but for them the worst was yet to come.

(c) 2001, The Washington Post