- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 14, 2001

BALTIMORE A long shot claimer hoping to hit the board pulled a Maryland Million shocker yesterday. Sumerset, which went off at 31-1, took the $200,000 Classic with a stirring photo-finish victory at Pimlico Race Course.
Trainer Tim Ritchey didn't believe Sumerset, a 4-year-old colt he claimed for $50,000 at Delaware Park on Sept. 30, could beat heavy favorite Concerned Minister. However, a third-place finish would have brought $20,000, so Ritchie took a chance with Sumerset, a sire of Allen's Prospect, the Million's leading stallion.
Concerned Minister looked deserving of his 9-10 backing when he took a short lead entering the stretch. However, Concerned Minister began tiring on the outside with 1/8-mile to go, and Sumerset jockey Jeremy Rose found a small hole near the rail. The nation's leading apprentice rider urged Sumerset ahead of Lightning Paces in the final yards to earn a neck victory. Sumerset covered 1 3/16 miles in a modest 1:57 1/5, five seconds off the track mark.
"It seemed like every horse on the lead stopped dead, so I just sat back and waited," Rose said. "It was a hard drive all the way down the lane. There was a ton of traffic. The hole opened up, and I said, 'This is my shot,' because holes don't open much in $200,000 races."
Sumerset seemed overmatched after losing his last four starts against inferior competition. However, in the past brothers Eric and Gregg Fral have found stakes runners from claiming races. The tanning salon owners from Warmister, Pa., earned $1.3 million last year from a modest stable that has since fallen to 10 horses.
"It's hard to find [stakes] horses in the claiming game, but I look for quality animals with more options," Eric Fral said. "We had some claims that looked real astonishing on paper that turned out no good, but if you don't take the shot you'll never know."
Ritchie, one of the leading Mid-Atlantic trainers based at Delaware Park, felt Sumerset needed only minor adjustments to improve. Ritchie changed Sumerset's shoes and equipment in the 13 days since his last race.
"A lot of times, you take a horse to a different environment, different feed, different way of training and the horse will respond well," Ritchie said. "There's still room for a little more improvement."
The Million proved wide open in its return to Pimlico after eight years at Laurel Park. There were 11 winning stallions on the card, which is restricted to Maryland-sired progeny, along with 11 trainers and owners. Only jockeys Ramon Dominguez and Travis Dunkelberger managed two victories on a day when bluebloods compete with castoffs.
A combined crowd of 20,682 at Pimlico and Laurel was nearly a 5 percent decline from last year, but the $5.98-million handle was the second best in the 16-year event.
"We had no idea how to judge the mood of people going to a place where there would be a lot of people," said Million executive director Tim Capps. "This week did not help because of the overt suggestions that people had to be on their toes [for possible terrorism]. We didn't have a bad day."
Dunkelberger's double victory was a sharp start for a day that included 17 stakes mounts at Pimlico and Charles Town Races. Dunkelberger showed amazing patience aboard Stal Quest in the $100,000 Ladies, letting Purrfect Punch nose ahead of his filly at the top of the stretch. Dunkelberger then went to the whip in the lane to win by 21/4 lengths for a $16.80 payoff. He also won aboard Along Came Mary in the $100,000 Oaks.
"I just try to keep my focus on each race," Dunkelberger said of daynight doubleheader. "[Stal Quest] was real comfortable early in the race and had some kick in the end."

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