Baltimore Sun Sunday - - BAL­TI­MORE RUN­NING FES­TI­VAL -

ago just for mo­ments like this. Mary­land stal­lions have kind of been over­looked a lit­tle bit and days like to­day put you front and cen­ter.”

For­est Fire and Prendimi quickly turned this year’s Clas­sic into match race, with jockey Paco Lopez hold­ing For­est Fire just off the lead for most of the race be­fore tak­ing the lead com­ing out of the fi­nal turn and hold­ing on to win by a half-length.

“John [Servis] told me, ‘Paco, put the horse right there. You have a very good post, so if some­body wants to go crazy, let them go and you can sit sec­ond or third. ’ ” Lopez said. “I just wanted to see how the race played out.

“I had great po­si­tion and the pace was good. Turn­ing for home, he was just go­ing easy and was able to hold off that horse.”

For­est Fire is owned by Shirley Lo­jeski, but Pons en­joyed every mo­ment as if it were his own, very much like a man watch­ing his grand­son pitch in the World Se­ries.

“It kind of val­i­dates who you are as far as be­ing a Mary­land stal­lion — or owner or trainer or jockey,” he said. “If you win on Mary­land Mil­lion Day, it le­git­imizes what you do for a liv­ing. It’s re­ally been fun.

“This was a horse that was go­ing to go to Ken­tucky and we talked them into com­ing to Mary­land.”

For­est Fire went off as the sec­ond fa­vorite. Club­man, which fin­ished third in last year’s Mary­land Mil­lion Clas­sic, left the gate un­der jockey Ju­lian Pi­mentel at the low­est odds but didn’t re­ally fire and fin­ished a dis­ap­point­ing sev­enth.

Pi­mentel was also on heavy fa­vorite My Sis­ter­sledge in the $125,000 guar­an­teed Mary­land Mil­lion Ladies four races ear­lier but came up short by a nose to Zonda and jockey Vic­tor Car­rasco.

It wasn’t a day full of big sur­prises, but there was one in par­tic­u­lar. Port Louis, rid­den by Avery Whis­man, went off at 32-1 in the fifth race of the af­ter­noon and out­dis­tanced sec­ond-fa­vorite Sparty by 1 1⁄2 lengths to win the Mary­land Mil­lion Starters Hand­i­cap.

We’ll have to wait and see if this new era of good feel­ings sur­round­ing Mary­land rac­ing will sur­vive the horse­trad­ing that will have to hap­pen at the leg­isla­tive level to turn the Pim­lico/Lau­rel ren­o­va­tion deal into a re­al­ity, but Pons said he is keep­ing a good thought.

“It’s kind of cool,” he said. “Brick by brick we’re re­build­ing this game. To­day has to be per­haps the big­gest crowd I’ve ever seen here on Mary­land Mil­lion Day. It re­minds me of the old D.C. In­ter­na­tional when 40,000 peo­ple came down here. Not that big a crowd but still plenty and a lot of fun.

“I’m ex­cited for this event and the plans for Mary­land rac­ing. I couldn’t wait to hear about a new Pim­lico and it might hap­pen. And to see Lau­rel host a Breed­ers Cup, it’s just an in­ter­est­ing time for Mary­land rac­ing and the Mary­land com­mu­nity.

“There’s some magic in it.”

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