TC The horses aren't the only ones slugging it out for a spot on the road to the Kentucky Derby.
A battle also rages among the nation's racetracks for which can attract the best horses and card the premier Kentucky Derby prep race.
The reputation of the Federico Tesio Stakes run yesterday at Pimlico Race Course, for example, is on the line.
Track officials received notice that its Grade III status runs the risk of being revoked when the graded-stakes committee meets in November. The panel reviews the records of horses that have competed in the race during the past five years and how they have fared in subsequent graded-stakes races.
During the first eight runnings of the Tesio, from 1981 through 1988, such eventual Grade I winners as Deputed Testamony (1983), Broad Brush (1986) and Private Terms (1988) emerged from the race.
But, in recent years, it has been slim pickings. The past four Tesio winners -- Smelly, Tong Po, Speakerphone and Woods of Windsor -- failed to distinguish themselves in future graded company, although Woods of Windsor is still in training and has a chance to beef up the Tesio's fading reputation.
So can yesterday's winner if he goes on to run well in other graded events this year.
Of course, the Tesio isn't the only 3-year-old Triple Crown prep in danger of losing its graded status.
The Wood Memorial, won last weekend by Irgun, already has been downgraded for 1995 from Grade I to Grade II. That decision leaves only two Grade I Triple Crown preps -- the Florida and Santa Anita derbies.
There is the chance that the Blue Grass Stakes, perhaps the best 3-year-old Triple Crown prep run this year, will be upgraded in November from Grade II to its former Grade I status. But that is going to depend on how well the winner, Holy Bull, and runners-up Valiant Nature, Mahogany Hall and Kandaly fare the rest of the year.
Derby early birds
Most trainers are taking Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham's advice and getting their horses to Churchill Downs early to get used to the track.
Already in Louisville, Ky., for the May 7 Derby are: the first four Santa Anita Derby finishers -- Brocco, Tabasco Cat, Strodes Creek and Numerous; Irgun and Go For Gin, who were 1-2 in the Wood Memorial; Remington Park Derby winner Smilin Singin Sam; Flamingo Stakes winner Meadow Flight, and Jim Beam runner-up Powis Castle.
Holy Bull and Valiant Nature, the 1-2 Blue Grass finishers, are still stabled at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, about a 1 1/2 -hour drive from Louisville.
Ed Seigenfeld, executive director of Triple Crown Productions -- who was at Pimlico last week -- said Churchill officials are expecting 17 horses in the Derby field.
Aiming for the Preakness
Three Triple Crown nominees -- Polar Expedition, Shiprock and Oakmont -- could bypass the Derby in favor of running in the May 21 Preakness.
Polar Expedition, the front-running winner of the Jim Beam Stakes at Turfway Park on April 2, is expected to run in Saturday's $500,000 Illinois Derby at Sportsman's Park and then head to the Preakness.
Philadelphia-based Shiprock, who was third in the Wood Memorial, could go in the May 4 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct and then "definitely run in the Preakness," said trainer Steve Rowan.
Oakmont, a son of Alydar, runs today against Soul Of The Matter in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. Depending on the outcome, Oakmont could be Preakness-bound. Trainer Neil Howard thinks the horse is better suited for the Preakness than the Derby.
Silver Tango retired
Phil Capuano has retired his multiple-stakes winning mare, Silver Tango, and is breeding her with 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled, who stands at Gainesway Farm in Lexington, Ky.
The mare, who won nearly $500,000, left for Kentucky last week.
Capuano had debated on leaving Silver Tango in Maryland and breeding her to Breeders' Cup Mile winner Opening Verse, who stands at Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City.
"But I had the opportunity to go to Unbridled and decided to do that this year," Capuano said. "She can always be bred to Opening Verse next spring."
Among the mares being bred to Opening Verse this year are Brilliant Brass, the 1992 Maryland-bred Horse of the Year, and Hay Patcher, the 21-year-old dam of Broad Brush, Maryland's all-time leading money winner of $2.6 million.
Finder's Choice gelded
Finder's Choice, one-time stablemate of Private Terms, who is excelling at stud, did not fare as well in the breeding shed.
The horse originally was retired in 1992 at Green Willow Farm in Westminster, but showed little interest in breeding. Owner Stuart Janney III returned the horse to training last year, but retired him once again after he finished off the board in the Washington International Mile.
This time, he was sent to Northview Stallion Station. "They decided to work with him, more as a challenge than anything else," Janney said. He added that the horse came from a genetic line of shy breeders, so it was not entirely surprising that he didn't perform well.
The latest report from Northview is that Janney has now gelded the horse and intends to use him as a fox hunter.
Centennial Hunt Cup video
As part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Maryland Hunt Cup, which is run on Saturday at Worthington Farms in Glyndon, filmmakers Sam Slater and Damon Sinclair have produced a 40-minute video documentary, which has its premiere showing Friday night at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore.
Slater and Sinclair recorded 20 hours of interviews with nearly 40 riders and their family members who have participated in the race.
Incorporated in the video is a 1938 NBC radio broadcast of the call of the race; footage from the David O. Selznick film "Maryland," which was produced in Hollywood in 1940; and additional footage from CBS and NBC telecasts of the Hunt Cup in 1961 and 1965.
"We found so many gems that it's been hard weeding the stuff out," Slater said.
All unused material will be stored in the archives at the Historical Society headquarters.
Among the highlights: Gene Weymouth recalling how he celebrated by taking his 1957 winner, Ned's Flying, to a bar in Timonium; riders Tommy Smith and Charlie Fenwick Jr. reminiscing about the experiences of their Hunt Cup winners at the Aintree Grand National; and recollections of such riders as Hall of Famer Mike Smithwick.
Slater said that Jim McKay did the narration for the video and that copies can be purchased through the Maryland Historical Society at 201 W. Monument St.
Maryland-bred 3-year-old filly Baby Diamonds won the $30,000-added Moment To Buy Stakes at Golden Gate Fields in Albany, Calif., last week. The half-sister to Laurel Turf Cup winner Square Cut is trained at Santa Anita Park by Joe Devereux and is owned by Potomac restaurateur Jimmy Caiopoulos. The filly was broken in Maryland by Kevin Bowie and received her early training at Oakwood Farm, owned by Susie and Bo Haslup in Libertytown. . . . Trainer Roger Attfield is sending the first shipment of his Maryland division into Pimlico from Florida on Wednesday. . . . Apple Blossom Handicap winner Nine Keys is nominated to the Pimlico Distaff.