HORSE RACING : Today's Maryland Million Is Simply Solid Gold


Saturday's Maryland Million has drawn what may be the best group of horses in the event's 10-year history, including some runners with Grade I stakes credentials and national reputations. Their presence makes the races interesting in two ways. Even though horseplayers may be jaded from simulcasts, most still relish the chance to see the sport's stars perform live. And in some cases, a horse with a big reputation might be overbet, creating an opportunity for profit.

The most overwhelming favorite on the Laurel Park card will be the 3-year-old filly Urbane, who has lost three close decisions to Serena's Song, the sure-fire Eclipse Award winner of their age group. Although Urbane hasn't raced since May, she appears unbeatable (and unbettable) in the Maryland Million Oaks.

Prenup, a Grade I stakes winner last season, looks like a short-priced favorite in the Sprint Handicap, a race he won last fall. He has only one serious challenger, Golden Tent, but Prenup's tactical speed, and his rival's lack of it, ought to make this a cold Prenup-Golden Tent exacta.

The marquee performer on this card, however, is Oliver's Twist, who finished second in the Preakness and would have won it with a little luck. To casual fans at Laurel, his reputation and his achievements will seem to tower over those of his rivals in the $200,000 Maryland Million Classic -- familiar faces such as Ameri Valay and Mary's Buckaroo. But if the crowd makes Oliver's Twist a short-priced favorite, I will bet against him without hesitation.

Even if he duplicates his Preakness performance against a mediocre crop of 3-year-olds, Oliver's Twist wouldn't be a cinch against older rivals. But he is by no means a certainty to repeat it; that was the only time in his career he ever has run notably fast. Moreover, Oliver's Twist was laid off during the summer and his comeback was a narrow victory in a seven-furlong prep race last week. Was that sufficient to get him ready to run 1 3/16 miles? Maybe not.

In contrast to Oliver's Twist, whose reputation rests largely on a single race, Ameri Valay has delivered many excellent performances and has scored 16 victories in his career. The conditions look ideal for him today. There is only one other speed horse in the field, Brilliant Patriot.

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