Billy Turner is saddling winners at a 28 percent clip at the Laurel meet, which certainly makes him a factor today in the $75,000 Annapolis Stakes with the rejuvenated Popol's Gold.
The Triple Crown-winning trainer ranks third in the standings to perennial Maryland powerhouses King Leatherbury and Dale Capuano, accomplishing the feat with quite a bit less stock. He's got 20 runners in the barn, but is making the most of his opportunities.
Last month, Turner sent out eight winners for seven owners -- horses like Popol's Gold, Shimmering Prince, Mr. Radioactive, Night Fax, Turning Around and Hold On My Heart in allowance or high-class claiming company -- and broke the maidens of Hood Island and Silver Cielo.
His owners range from Marylanders Victor Divivo, Lois Nervitt and Thomas Keenan to the Virginia outfits of Milton Ritzenberg, Audley Farm and Susan and Wayne Chatfield-Taylor.
Although Turner is winning with regularity, stakes victories have been harder to come by, although he has gotten close on several occasions this fall. He finished second in the Stefanita Stakes with Lea Carter, third in the Laurel Futurity with Shimmering Prince and fourth in the Chrysanthemum Handicap with Night Fax.
Popol's Gold, who briefly was considered last spring as a potential Triple Crown candidate, is returning to stakes competition after knee surgery.
His two most recent preps have come against tough older horses, which might put him in good stead running against 3-year-olds today.
He beat Vet Jet and Woods of Windsor in his first start after a 6 1/2 -month layoff in October. "Then the races I wanted to put him didn't fill," Turner said. "So I took
him to New York and ran him in an overnight handicap." He faced a pretty tough crowd, including multiple stakes winner Excellent Tipper.
Although Popol's Gold finished fifth, "It was a good race for him, one he needed, and I expect him to run well today," Turner added.
Turner plans on running most of his stock at Laurel through the winter. He recently sent two turf runners, Che Sara Sara and Oscar Max, to vacation in Camden, S.C., with Sheila Maloney until spring and also has four 2-year-olds there.
Turner also stopped Shimmering Prince for the winter to give him time to mature. The speedy son of Apalachee could be effective in 3-year-old sprint stakes next year "and could stretch out to run long on the grass," Turner added.
The main competition for Popol's Gold today figures to come from expected pace-setter Richie The Coach, who also faced older horses in his last start in the Walter Haight Handicap, finishing second to Ameri Valay. Richie The Coach could be pressed early by Canton River and Justalittleshower, who drew the rail and has twice placed in stakes this year.
Then there is Looming. The Robert Meyerhoff runner gets a new jockey with Larry Reynolds replacing Andrea Seefeldt.
The horse's recent form is better than it looks. He returns to the main track after a poor grass start and before that faced graded stakes competition in the Jerome Handicap at Belmont Park.
A win by Looming or the other Meyerhoff starter, Private High, would be fitting.
Laurel management is honoring Meyerhoff's victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic with Concern by giving away 5,000 color posters of the horse. In addition, Meyerhoff and Small will be honored in a ceremony in the winner's circle.
Concern, however, will not be present. He's getting a rest at Small's training center, Pacoma Farm, in Camden, S.C.