BALTIMORE (AP) — Eighteen months after finishing her final chemotherapy treatment, Mary Wiley-Wagner had another reason to celebrate.
She was aboard as Mass Destruction came roaring down the stretch for a 6 1/2-length victory Friday in the Lady Legends for the Cure Race II.
It was one of the events that kicked off the biggest weekend in Maryland racing, culminating with the Preakness on Saturday.
“How did it look? Did it look like I was having fun? Wiley-Wagner said. “Oh, my gosh. This is my passion, and to be able to come back and do it after cancer, damn, it doesn’t get any better.”
This marked the second straight year that eight retired female jockeys competed in a pari-mutuel race, staged in a partnership between Pimlico and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest breast cancer organization.
Pimlico made a donation of $33,108.82 to the Komen Maryland affiliate, equal to the amount wagered to win on Mass Destruction. Second choice in the field at odds of 5-to-2, the 4-year-old gelding paid $7.40 to win.
Seven of the Lady Legends returned for the second edition of the race, minus defending champion Gwen Jocson, who was injured and could not compete. Wiley-Wagner, the wife of Maryland Jockey Club official Bruce Wagner, was fourth on Mass Destruction in last year’s race.
One of the top apprentice jockeys in the country in 1983, Wiley-Wagner made a brief return to competitive riding after last year’s race, winning one of 17 starts at tracks in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. Her prior victory came on Nov. 24, 2010, at Laurel Park, exactly 367 days after her last session of chemotherapy.
“They didn’t let me win this race last year, and I needed that win,” she said of her recovery from breast cancer, “Not to prove anything to anybody else, just to prove to myself that I could do that. I did, I retired again, and here I am. But, no, I’m not planning another comeback.”
ASMUSSEN FOR THREE:
Four years ago trainer Steve Asmussen won the Preakness with Curlin, a lightly raced colt who developed into a two-time Horse of the Year. Two years ago, he came with another Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra, the first filly to win the Preakness since Nellie Morse in 1924.
Asmussen will try his hand again Saturday, this time with Astrology. The son of A.P. Indy was co-owned by the late Jess
Jackson, who also owned Rachel Alexandra.
Astrology earned a pair of seconds in two starts this year: the Sunland Park Derby and the Jerome Stakes at Belmont Park. He drew the rail for the Preakness and is 15-1 on the morning line.
“It’s a completely different scenario in the fact that Curlin had the potential to win one of these,” Asmussen said. “I had never been in a race like that with Rachel Alexandra, that it felt that everybody was on her side. It was tremendous and such a different feeling walking over with Rachel with the well-wishers.”
Astrology fell behind schedule when sickness cost him a month of training this year, prompting the decision to skip the Kentucky
Derby and prepare for the Preakness. Asmussen said this is the opportunity for Astrology to step up and into the spotlight.
“He has the right pedigree, and the right look, and he needs to win the right race,” the trainer said.
Asmussen appeared to choke up when asked what it would mean to Jackson, who died last month, to win the Preakness with Astrology.
“I don’t even want to think about it, not even now,” he said. “Overwhelming.”
Trainer Kathy Ritvo is feeling her oats, just like her Preakness horse, Mucho Macho Man.
“I think he’ll be sharper, more aggressive,” said Ritvo, a heart-transplant recipient. “He seems to get along at any racetrack, any surface. Bring it on. He’s ready.”
Mucho Macho Man finished third to Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby.
“Animal Kingdom’s a very nice horse. I like him, but I love the way my horse is training,” she said. “I’m confident. I think he’ll come back here and run a great race. He couldn’t be doing any better than he’s doing. He galloped this morning unbelievably.”
Mucho Macho Man is the 6-1 third choice on the morning line from post No. 9.
There are several Preakness horses with interesting names.
King Congie honors Congie De Vito, the sales representative for the West Point Thoroughbreds ownership group, who died Feb. 16 at the age of 35.
De Vito, a quadriplegic, assembled the partnership for the horse, listed at 20-1.
Mr. Commons, also at 20-1, is named for an educator.
“My kids go to Groton School outside of Boston,” said owner and breeder Ian Banwell. “The headmaster of the school, Mr. Commons, is important to my kids.”
The 30-1 Norman Asbjornson is named for the chief executive officer of a heating and air conditioning company in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“I thought it was quite an honor,” Asbjornson said. “The rest is history. I believe he is going to do well on Saturday.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)