National attention among Triple Crown-age runners comes tomorrow when Afternoon Deelites and Timber Country, the country's two leading 3-year-olds, clash for the first time in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
Already the meeting between the two is being touted as a rivalry reminiscent of Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. The two colts are expected to meet once more, in the Santa Anita Derby on April 8, before the May 6 Kentucky Derby.
But locally, 3-year-olds, mostly of the sprinting variety and with no Kentucky Derby aspirations, square off today at Laurel Park in the Goss L. Stryker Stakes.
Shimmering Prince, the favorite, disappointed in his last start when he failed in the slop, but trainer Billy Turner thinks "he'll catch the kind of track he likes" today when the footing is fast. The horse, who is usually quick from the gate, drew the rail and has to contend with only one other speed horse, Flying Punch.
Turner thinks his horse will run well but said two starters, Centurion and Sam's Quest, have caught his eye while training in the morning at Laurel.
"Centurion has a beautiful way of going," Turner said. The Nancy Bayard-owned colt, trained by Bud Delp, gets Lasix for the first time in the Stryker, and is rated second choice on the track's morning line to Shimmering Prince.
Sam's Quest, "blew out faster than the race will be run. I don't know whether that indicates he's sharp or has left his race on the track," Turner said. On Wednesday, the Maryland Million Nursery winner worked a half mile in 46 1/5 seconds and is being cranked up by trainer Jessie Campitelli for his first seasonal stakes effort after a winterlong vacation.
Shimmering Prince might be taking the place of Turner's recently departed Popol's Gold among area sprinters. New York-bred Popol's Gold has been shipped to Belmont Park, where the 4-year-old colt is now being trained by Richard O'Connell and is being pointed for New York-bred races.
National Best Seven is dropped
The board of directors of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, which met in Dallas last weekend, has decided to drop its weekly National Best Seven wager.
Low betting figures and weak interest among fans doomed the national wager, which averged a country-wide pool of $215,876 for each of 40 runnings.
The final National Best Seven will be conducted on April 8.
The future of the TRA as an organization is in jeopardy as well. A number of tracks have either dropped out or are considering leaving the association. Another meeting, which will be held at Keeneland Race Course next month, could be pivotal in determining the TRA's future, a track executive said yesterday.