But Billy Boniface and King Leatherbury have their own sparring match going on in the 10th Maryland Million.
"[The Million] is the only thing he can beat me at," Leatherbury said jokingly yesterday at the post position draw at Laurel Park. "He invites me to his house and can't even whip me at croquet."
To which Boniface was quick to reply: "King claims a horse [Mom's Stitch] off me and wins a couple of races with her, and all of a sudden he starts crowing."
Boniface leads all trainers with five Maryland Million victories, one more than Leatherbury and a couple of other trainers -- Ron Cartwright and Charlie Hadry -- who also have horses running tomorrow.
Boniface and Leatherbury each have five runners in various Million races and start the two favorites, Oliver's Twist and Ameri Valay, respectively, in the featured $200,000 Classic.
Leatherbury all but conceded the Classic to Boniface after yesterday's draw.
"My horse might be great, but he can't carry 126 pounds, have another speed horse [Brilliant Patriot] to the inside of him and still win," Leatherbury said. "I'm going to end up with the same excuse that I had when my horse got beat in his last start in the Polynesian Handicap at Pimlico. He carried topweight and was taken wide."
None of that displeases Boniface.
" 'Oliver,' " he said referring to his 1995 Preakness Stakes runner-up, "had a perfect race at Laurel last week and came out of it like a bear."
The Classic drew eight starters, including Mary's Buckaroo, who appears to have the best chance to upset the top pair.
The 4-year-old gray gelding, owned jointly by his trainer, Mary Joanne Hughes, and University of Maryland English professor Jackson Bryer, drew the rail.
"That's the place to be in route races around here," said Bill Brasaemle, Daily Racing Form chart-caller and husband of the trainer. "You want to save ground going into the first turn. It
doesn't make me unhappy, not one little bit."
Cartwright also has a Classic starter, C. Oliver Goldsmith's Say Capp, but his best shot to equal Boniface's five-win record comes with Mea Culpa Stable's Mz. Zill Bear in the Ladies turf stakes. The 6-year-old mare has won the past two runnings of the 1 1/8 -mile grass race and is in peak form. She drew the 1-hole, "a real advantage," Cartwright said.
Not so with his Sprint entry, Crumpton.
The Sprint, which is the seventh of 11 races, figures to be a dogfight, the most competitive race of the day and one with five or six legitimate contenders.
One of them, Crumpton, drew the outside post.
"It's a couple lengths disadvantage," Cartwright said. "He's got the speed to get out front and get over to the rail, but he's got to break fast."
One horse who will be gunning for him is Foxie G., one of trainer Dale Capuano's four Million starters.
Capuano and his father, Phil, who owns the horse, debated all week about running in the Sprint, especially against such a horse as Grade I winner Prenup.
"We've never had much luck in the Million," Capuano said. "We kept running into Safely Kept [with In The Curl] and then never could do anything with Silano [the family's multiple stakes winner in the Classic]."
Capuano is looking for his first Million victory and has lined up Corey Nakatani -- the country's second-leading jockey who is here principally to ride California filly Urbane in the Oaks -- for two of his starters, Bold And Gorgeous in the Ladies and J J Hansel in the Turf.
Nakatani is named on six Million mounts, one fewer than Mark Johnston, the state's leading jockey who was sidelined a month ago with a fractured collarbone, but made it back in time this week to ride in the Million.
Johnston even rode at Delaware Park on Wednesday to make sure he's in shape for tomorrow.
He's named on seven mounts, including three of Leatherbury's five starters as well as such aces as Calipha in the Distaff and Count On Numbers in the Nursery.
Most of the races drew large fields, although only six fillies were entered to run against 2-5 shot Urbane in the Oaks and only five jumpers were mustered to run against champion Maryland-bred Circuit Bar in the steeplechase.
Post time: 12:30 p.m.
Where: Laurel Park
TV: HTS, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Tickets: Reserved seating can be obtained by calling Laurel at (301) 725-0400.