The King and I — A Preview of Maryland Million Day with King Leatherbury

Story originally written for Maryland Thoroughbred and 

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By Daniel Tordjman – When I moved to Maryland this past summer, I knew I’d have plans on October 19th. The date means only one thing to people who follow horse racing in the state – it’s Jim McKay Maryland Million Day at Laurel Park. This year will be my first time attending and I can hardly wait. I’ve always been intrigued by the event, which is as much a social experience as it is a great day of competitive racing.

What exactly sets it apart? As a newbie to the event, it would be hard for me to answer without some help. So, I went to a man who has attended every Maryland Million and has been referred to as “more Maryland than crab cakes!” My gracious tour guide also happens to be one of the greatest trainers of all-time, King Leatherbury.

“Preakness is our big national event,” Leatherbury said, “but Million Day is really our big day here in Maryland.”

The brainchild of sports journalist (and Maryland native), Jim McKay, and Maryland racing legend, Bill Boniface, Maryland Million Day is an annual celebration of the very best Maryland-sired horses. It can be extremely gratifying for breeders, owners and trainers alike. For Leatherbury, it’s led to some incredible memories dating back to the inaugural Maryland Million Day in 1986.

“The very first year they had it, I jumped right in and happened to have two wins in the very first card,” Leatherbury said. “What could be better than that?”

Oh, I don’t know, perhaps winning the most Maryland Million races ever? Yep, Leatherbury owns the trainer win record with 10 victories – a small but precious portion of his 6,400 career wins.

“Besides the business part of it,” said Leatherbury, “it goes down in the record books and… it adds to (my career) to have a record there.”

The star of Leatherbury’s barn, Ben’s Cat, has won the Maryland Million Turf Sprint three years in a row. However, this year’s card doesn’t feature a turf sprint.

“See, you win a race for three years, they’ll do away with the race,” Leatherbury said, jokingly.


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Legendary Maryland trainer, King Leatherbury

Despite there being no turf sprint on Maryland Million Day this year, Leatherbury told me Ben’s Cat will still run in either the dirt sprint or turf mile. Those are two of seven exciting stakes races on the card with purses of $100,000 or more, highlighted by the $150,000 Maryland Million Classic.

Aside from the racing, there’s also plenty to do at Laurel Park in between races.

“The atmosphere is better on that day,” said Leatherbury. “It’s really more of a social activity.”

Activities planned for this year range from pony rides to my personal favorite, the Great Falls Vaulters – yes, they vault from moving horses! Don’t forget the Party at the Park, the vendors and the Carolina BBQ food truck.

“There is a special excitement that day,” Leatherbury told me. “That day, people come out who don’t usually come out. Some of them will only come out once a year (for this).”

It certainly seems like there’s a little something for everybody on Jim McKay Maryland Million Day. The King and I will both be there. Will you?

Special Post Time: 12:15pm at Laurel Park

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On Track Entertainment:

Joey from the Broadway Production of War Horse puppet demonstration.

Special Olympics Maryland equestrian atheletes demonstration.

Suttler Post Clydesdales – The award-winning Suttler Post Clydesdales team of 6 horses will pull a beautiful hitch wagon down the stretch.

Great Falls Vaulters – Vaulting is a unique sport that combines dance and gymnastics on a moving horse.

Pony Races – Shetlands and Small ponies, and Medium and Large Ponies race to the wire in a leg-flapping spectacle!

Maryland Horse Industry Board Touch of Class Award October Presentation.

The Goshen Hounds Foxhunting Club – 21 couple of foxhounds will parade with Master of Foxhounds, Robert Taylor and members of the hunt club in a beautiful display of Maryland’s heritage and tradition.

Party at the Park – Join us in the grassy area next to the paddock for cornhole, Wagering 101 with Horse Player Now, Graffiti Walls, great local vendors and more!


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