It might have been a perfect match.
Corey Nakatani, the Southern California jockey who is second only to Jerry Bailey in the national rider standings, and Oliver's Twist in the Maryland Million Classic.
But it wasn't meant to be.
Each will get top billing today among the human and equine athletes competing on the 11-race Million card. But they won't be together.
"Nakatani called and wanted to ride 'Oliver,' " said Billy Boniface, trainer of the 3-year-old colt who grabbed the attention of Maryland's horse community last spring when he came oh-so-close to winning the Preakness.
But Boniface turned down the opportunity.
"I'm sticking with Albert," he said.
That's Albert Delgado, ranked fifth among Laurel jockeys, but nowhere close to Nakatani's lofty national standing.
There was a time when Boniface brought in big-name jockeys like Laffit Pincay Jr. to ride his Million starters.
But today Boniface is sticking with the hometown boy.
"Albert knows the horse. He came down to Florida and rode him last winter when I needed him," Boniface said. "There was never any question about it. I'm remaining loyal to Albert."
Delgado has ridden Oliver's Twist in five career starts at Laurel Park, site of today's Million, and only has been beaten once. He was on the horse during his finest moment at Pimlico last spring when he came within a half-length of beating Timber Country in )) the Preakness, finishing second, a neck in front of likely 3-year-old champion Thunder Gulch.
Now Delgado is out to reclaim Oliver's Twist's stature, tarnished with a devastating loss in June in the Ohio Derby.
But although he was passed over for Delgado, don't feel sorry for Nakatani.
He took the "red eye" from Los Angeles last night after riding six horses on yesterday's card at Santa Anita Park, where he's the leading jockey. His top ride at Laurel this afternoon will be on the California-based filly Urbane in the Maryland Million Oaks.
"This is a great chance to get known on the East Coast," Nakatani said. "Until last week, I've led the nation in the money-won list without riding one big stakes horse. That's amazed me. There's no question Urbane has got the class today. The question is if she's tight enough after a five-month lay-off to win at 1 1/8 miles."
Urbane's trainer is Randy Bradshaw, a former assistant to D. Wayne Lukas and conditioner of current 3-year-old stakes star ,, Petionville, winner of the Ohio and Louisiana derbies.
Nakatani, 24, has ridden at Laurel before -- in the 1991 Washington International, when he was sixth on Super May, and on a couple of other mounts in the Laurel and De Francis dashes. He's still looking for his first Laurel winner.
"But I've only ridden three horses," he said.
Nakatani has five other Million mounts. He will ride Kentucky invader Im Out First in the Lassie, Say It With Spirit in the Sprint and will go for upsets in the Nursery with City Shelter, the Ladies with Bold And Gorgeous and the Turf with J J Hansel.
But Nakatani will sit the Classic.
He won't be idle for long, however. Immediately after the Million, he'll hop another plane, this time for Toronto, where he will have the mount tomorrow on Hasten To Add in the Rothmanns International at Woodbine Race Course.
After yesterday's scratches, a total of 103 horses, all offspring of Maryland stallions, remained in the fields for the 10th Million.
The runners are the offspring of 45 stallions, representing 20 farms. The late Caveat, Maryland's leading sire in 1994, has 10 starters, the most of any stallion. Allen's Prospect has eight, followed by five each by Carnivalay, Citidancer, Hay Halo and the deceased Salutely.
Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City has 31 offspring of its stallions competing on the card, followed by 19 for Country Life Farm in Bel Air and 17 for Green Willow Farm near Westminster.
Bill and Phyllis Dixon, who operate Mea Culpa Stable, Inc., top the owners' category, starting six horses in six different Million races.
NOTES: Channel 11 in Baltimore will anchor its morning news show from 8 a.m. until noon today at Laurel. . . . A pair of horses claimed from trainer King Leatherbury might come back to haunt him today. Leatherbury lost Bay Capp and Brilliant Patriot out of the same race at Pimlico on June 3 when each horse was claimed for $25,000. Bay Capp will try to upset the Leatherbury entry, Den of Thieves, in the starter handicap (third race). Brilliant Patriot will go against the Leatherbury-trained Ameri Valay in the $200,000 Classic.
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.