By Mike Farrell
Jim McKay, the legendary host of ABC’s Wide World of Sports and a lover of thoroughbred racing, returned from the inaugural Breeders’ Cup in 1984 with a thought that would not let him rest.
Why couldn’t his beloved Maryland racing industry stage its own equivalent of the Breeders’ Cup for horses bred in the state?
From McKay’s vision and dedication sprang a new series in 1986—Maryland Million Day. That great tradition continues Saturday at Laurel Park with a 12-race card topped by the $150,000 Classic.
The concept that started in Maryland has now spread across the country to most major racing circuits. The best way to promote a state’s breeding and racing industry is to assemble the home-grown stars for a stellar day of competition.
We are now in the annual autumn lull, that period between the final prep races and next month’s Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar. Maryland Million Day is one of the events that helps racing fans bridge the gap.
This is also the time of year when Midwest and Northeast tracks squeeze in the final rounds of grass stakes before off-the-turf becomes a permanent condition until next Spring.
Along those lines, this weekend’s lineup includes the Sycamore (G3) on Friday at Keeneland and the Hill Prince (G2) and Noble Damsel (G3), both on Saturday at Belmont.
Yes Virginia, there is a Bob Baffert, and he will appear on Breeders’ Cup weekend.
Seems it is impossible to go one week without Baffert news. The latest development is good news for the silver-haired trainer. Well, sort of.
Baffert’s horses will be allowed to compete at the 2021 Breeders’ Cup with the proviso that every Baffert runner undergo enhanced testing and observation, all at Baffert’s expense.
About a month ago, the Breeders’ Cup announced a review process to determine if Baffert could compete. That raised the prospect Baffert might be banned, which would undoubtedly trigger a legal battle.
The Breeders’ Cup reached a reasonable accommodation. Bob, you can play … but we’re watching very closely.
Unfortunately, so will an international television audience that will once again hear a recitation of Baffert’s lengthy list of medication violations.
There was no good outcome here for the sport. Banning Baffert would have been a controversial move. Letting him compete shines the spotlight on how much still needs to be done to clean up the game.
This is one small victory for Bob, who continues to wiggle his way out of these jams. Kudos go to his outstanding legal team who have expertly kept him afloat.
The ship could still sink. Baffert still has a disciplinary meeting with the New York Racing Association on Jan. 24, and he has been barred from racing at Churchill Downs.
Stay tuned for ongoing developments on those fronts.
In other Breeders’ Cup developments, fans get their last crack at attending the Breeders’ Cup in person when a limited number of general admission tickets go on sale Wednesday at noon, Eastern.
You can grab them at BreedersCup.com/Tickets. The options include Clubhouse general admission, Trackside general admission, Stretch Run packages and some dining choices.
In one of the more interesting Breeders’ Cup developments, Irad Ortiz, Jr. picked up the mount on Pacific Classic (G1) winner Tripoli in the $6 million Classic (G1). The seat was vacated after Tripoli ran fourth in the Awesome Again (G1) and Tiago Pereira was fired.
It was widely assumed Ortiz would ride for Todd Pletcher in the Classic aboard either Dr. Post or Happy Saver. Neither one will make the race.
Mike Farrell has worked in thoroughbred and harness racing for much of his career in journalism. Mike is a turf writer, harness writer, and handicapper, covering and analyzing races at dozens of racetracks around the country. Based on the East Coast, Mike has covered the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup for a number of publications, including Daily Racing Form, as well as The Associated Press. He spends time at Gulfstream Park taking in the races, and also hits the harness racing circuit in the Northeast region. He’s been a fixture at The Hambletonian and the Haskell Invitational for longer than he’d like to remember.