by Kimberly K. Egan, MHC Co-President (first published in the August 2022 Equiery)
This year, Saturday, October 22, is Jim McKay Maryland Million Day, otherwise known as Maryland’s Day at the Races. It is the second biggest day of racing in Maryland after the Preakness Stakes in May. It is a full day of stakes races at Laurel Park, offering purses totaling $1 million.
The meet has been held since 1986, when Jim McKay, the original host of ABC’s Wide World of Sports, got the idea after attending the first Breeder’s Cup World Championship in 1985. The races are restricted to the progeny of stallions who stand in Maryland, provided that the stallion has been nominated for that year’s breeding season. The nomination fee is an amount equal to the stallion’s stud fee. Any horse that was conceived in Maryland and is by a nominated sire is eligible to be nominated to the Maryland Million program until December 31 of its yearling year.
The winner of the first running of the Maryland Million Classic (then called the Budweiser Maryland Classic) was Herat. The Washington Post reported on the race at the time and said “little Herat’s . . . talent surely stems from his Maryland origins. He is a son of Northern Dancer, the resident of Chesapeake, MD, who is the greatest stallion in the world.” Northern Dancer had won the Preakness and the Derby in 1964, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976.
Herat’s trophy was a 14-inch bowl that is the largest piece of single glass crystal bowl ever blown by the House of Waterford in Ireland. It is on display at the Maryland Horse Breeders Association in Reisterstown. Subsequent winners received smaller versions of the same bowl until Waterford discontinued the pattern in 2008. The Steuben Glass Company took over manufacturing the winners’ trophies in 2009.
As for Jim McKay himself, he was raised in Baltimore and got his first media job as a police reporter for the Baltimore Evening Sun. His was the first voice ever heard on television in Baltimore, and he is known to generations of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers as the man who voiced the unforgettable phrase, “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat,” in the opening sequence of the Wide World of Sports.
McKay covered 12 Olympic Games during his long career as a sportscaster, one of which was the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Eight terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes during those Games. McKay reported on the massacre live for 16 hours, ending with the another infamous phrase, “they’re all gone.”
McKay also covered the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes for ABC, and he bred and raced Thoroughbreds from his farm in Monkton.
McKay died in 2008 at age 86. In 2009, the Maryland General Assembly passed a joint resolution to change the name of Maryland Million Classic to the Jim McKay Maryland Million Classic.