The Maryland Million Classic looks to be such a wide-open affair that Clem Florio, the Laurel Park oddsmaker, deemed Perfect to a Tee the morning-line favorite at the very cool odds of 4-1.
"That's OK," said Linda Albert, the horse's trainer. "He never gets any respect."
You can't say that about his trainer. Albert, 40, has emerged as one of Maryland's top conditioners of thoroughbreds. Last year, she won her first Maryland Million races: the Lassie with Perfect Challenge (at non-respectful odds of 30-1) and the Distaff Starter Handicap with Miss Angelina (who finished second, but was placed first when Set the Pace was disqualified).
This year, Albert returns with Perfect Challenge in the Oaks, Kings Wild in the Nursery and Perfect to a Tee in the Classic. She likes all their chances.
In her 11 years of training -- all in Maryland -- she has saddled 1,387 horses and won with 222 of them, a winning percentage of 16 percent, according to statistics released by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. The national win average for trainers is 13 percent.
Albert grew up on a dairy farm in New York and showed 4-H horses, specializing in dressage, cross-country jumping and stadium jumping.
"But I always liked the idea of racing," she said. "I wanted to be a jockey when I was a kid."
After high school, she attended a vocational school, Meredith Manor in West Virginia. Then she taught there for two years before. Settling in Maryland in 1981, she exercised horses, worked as a groom, rode briefly as a jockey (winning nine races) and obtained her trainer's license in 1988.
She's had as few as three horses and as many as the 30 she now trains at Bowie. A victory by Perfect to a Tee in the Classic would be her biggest win. Albert's richest so far have been two $100,000 stakes.
One of Perfect to a Tee's competitors is Testafly, making his first start in Maryland for his new trainer, Dale Capuano. Testafly's owners transferred the horse this summer from Dale Mills.
Testafly has at times flashed the ability to run with the best older horses in the country.
"He's right there with those horses; he trains well enough at times," Capuano said. "If he runs exceptionally well [today], I think he can move up to the next level, or at least the next tier."
Short odds for 'Run'
Proud Run, at 7-to-5 odds in the $100,000 Million Ladies, is the shortest overnight favorite of the day on what figures to be a card filled with challenging betting and heavily competitive races.
She gets a slight nod over the defending champion, Lonesome Sound, who is listed at 5-2.
A Hamilton Smith-trained entry of Case of the Blues and Gin Talking looms as tough in the Lassie, while Virginia Carnival, a Grade III winner last time out, gets the nod in the Turf, and Greenspring Willy, the 1998 champion, is favored to repeat in the Sprint.
The remainder of the $100,000 events are considered wide-open affairs, with at least four or five legitimate contenders.
Allen riding high
Trainer A. Ferris Allen III will send two horses out for the Million program after winning the training title at Colonial Downs for the third straight fall.
Allen, who shared the crown with Hamilton Smith last year, won 15 races in 60 starts at the Virginia track and accumulated purse earnings of $177,410. Smith-- with three entries on the Million card -- was second at Colonial with 11 wins and earnings of $139,525.
The charges running under Allen's tutelage today are Valay Bullet in the Million Distaff Handicap and Show King in the Million Starter-Handicap.
With Edgar Prado missing, Mario Pino easily won the Colonial jockey title with 36 victories and $464,600 in earnings.
'Piggy' can't keep up
Mary Bo Quoit, whose life has been chronicled in The Sun, ran similarly to her first effort yesterday while finishing sixth in the 10th race, beating two tiring horses.
The filly, whose nickname is "Miss Piggy," broke alertly under Mario Verge, but quickly slipped back into the pack. She was last of eight after a half-mile and was never a factor in the stretch.
Never a dull moment
The on-track entertainment today at Laurel will be extensive and varied.
The first scheduled event -- after the second race -- is trick riding by Shane and Teresa Karson, followed by a Grand Prix jumping exhibition by Debbie Stephens following the third race.
Jack Russell terriers return for both racing and high jumping and there will be demonstrations of jousting, the state sport, and carriage driving. All on-track events will conclude before the eighth race and all performances are restricted to five minutes.
Channels 45 and 54 will telecast the program live from 4 to 6 p.m. and will include race replays in fill time. TVG is doing live segments throughout the day. Thirteen other states, including the racing hotbeds of California, Kentucky and New York, have followed the Million with special event days. Million races have been won by 117 different horses representing 101 different owners. Algar and Timely Warning are the only horses to have won the Million Classic twice. Race sponsorships in association with regional businesses have helped Maryland Million, Ltd., provide a portion of the $1 million in purses and nominator awards.