04/01/2005 1:00AM

Spring Festival launches meet at Pimlico

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A Maryland Million Day in April? The Spring Festival of Racing, to be held the first Saturday of Pimlico's spring meet on April 23, will serve as a prelude to the big event later in the year.

Three restricted stakes are on the Spring Festival card. If a horse is either Maryland Million-nominated or Maryland-bred, he runs for a $50,000 purse. If a horse is eligible in both categories, he runs for a purse of $100,000. Two open stakes are also scheduled, carrying purse premiums for Maryland-bred or Maryland Million runners. With all of the premiums included, the combined value of the five stakes is $650,000.

"The goal for Maryland Million has been to give additional opportunities to owners to run their nominated horses," said Cricket Goodall, executive director of the Maryland Million.

And opportunities soared when the Maryland Million received an influx of funds from a bill signed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. last year, which directed a percentage of the in-state handle on Maryland races to Maryland Million purses. In addition to boosting the purses on Maryland Million Day, which this year will be held on Oct. 8, a number of restricted races are scheduled throughout the year.

The Spring Festival concept is not new to Maryland. In 1994, the Maryland Horse Breeders Association pooled the money for four Maryland-bred restricted stakes races held on what was called Spring Challenge Day, but the event was dropped from the calendar in 2002. The addition of Maryland Million money and horses makes this year's event more attractive.

Naming the races for some of the Maryland Million's biggest supporters lends an identity to the day. Three of the state's leading breeding farms - Country Life Farm, Maryland Stallion Station, and Northview Stallion Station, which top the state's sire ranks by number of Maryland Million-nominated horses - are each sponsoring a race. To help celebrate the Maryland breeding industry, the farms have donated seasons to two stallions, which will be given to the breeders of the top two finishers of their races.

"It's thrilling to have a $100,000 stakes race named for the farm," said Josh Pons, Country Life's farm manager. "I think that it is almost organic to name races for people and places who can appreciate it. We're glad to be sharing the stage with the other hard-working farms."

The $100,000 ($50,000 Maryland-bred and $50,000 Maryland Million) stakes offered are:

* The Country Life Farm - 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-old fillies (donated stallion seasons to No Armistice and Parker's Storm Cat).

* The Maryland Stallion Station - six furlongs, 3-year-olds (donated stallion seasons to Jazz Club and Seeking Daylight).

* The Northview Stallion Station - 1 1/8 miles, fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up (donated stallion seasons to Polish Miner and Great Notion).

The open stakes, with $25,000 added for Maryland Million or Maryland-bred runners (a total of $50,000 if a runner is eligible for both), are the Federico Tesio Stakes for 3-year-olds, and the second running of the Jim McKay Breeders' Cup Handicap, for 3-year-olds and up. The Tesio is worth a maximum of $150,000 and the McKay a maximum of $200,000. Both races are run at 1 1/8 miles. Famed broadcaster Jim McKay was the founder of the Maryland Million.

The closing date for the Spring Festival of Racing stakes is April 13.

Maryland's first-year stallions

The first foals for four popular first-year Maryland stallions are now arriving. And in the spirit of the Maryland Million, a number of the first arrivals, although foaled outside of Maryland, are eligible to be nominated to the sire program.

Parker's Storm Cat, a half-brother to hot sire Malibu Moon who is standing at Country Life Farm, had a foal on the ground in Kentucky when a filly out of the Seattle Slew mare Baltic Nations was born Jan. 14 for breeder B. Wayne Hughes, who also bred the filly's sire. A son of Storm Cat, Parker's Storm Cat has nearly 70 foals expected this year.

Another Hughes/Country Life collaboration brought No Armistice to Maryland, and his first foal, bred by David Daniel and born Feb. 13 at Country Life in Bel Air, Md., is a filly out of the Polish Numbers mare Court Tour. No Armistice (by Unbridled) had the largest first book of the Maryland sires, and about 75 foals are due this year.

Maryland Stallion Station's Rock Slide, a full brother to Horse of the Year Mineshaft, got nearly 70 mares his first season and has foals on the ground in five states. His first foal was born in early February in Virginia.

Seeking Daylight, bred and campaigned by Edward P. Evans, who maintains a part-ownership in the son of Seeking the Gold, had his first foal arrive at Evans's farm in Virginia in February. The stallion has more than 50 mares due this year.