After a near-eight-month vacation, Ah Day, Maryland's 2006 Horse of the Year, is entered at Laurel Park today, looking to add depth to his resume.
The 5-year-old will try to become the first repeat winner in the 14-year history of the $80,000 Fire Plug Stakes.
"I think he'll come back running good," said King Leatherbury, who bred, owns and trains the horse. "Last year I gave him a little shorter break, and he came back and ran one of the best races of his life in this race."
A year ago, with Mario Pino riding, Ah Day beat Crafty Schemer in the six-furlong test. This year Jeremy Rose will ride the 8-5 favorite, and his biggest competition is expected to come from 3-1 choice Lemon's of Love, who will ship in from Philadelphia Park and have Pino aboard in the seven-horse field.
"Jeremy fits a lot of different horses," said Rose's agent, John "Kid" Breeden. "They called and asked us, and it was good to know they were confident in Jeremy's ability to handle this horse."
Said Leatherbury: "Ah Day has had numerous riders, which is unusual. Usually really good horses have the same rider, and Pino was very good. He won on him. He's an excellent rider. But we just wanted to make a change."
Ah Day, sired by Malibu Moon, is a seven-time stakes winner. He ran four times last year, winning the Fire Plug Stakes, finishing third in the Grade I Carter Handicap at Aqueduct, and placing second in the Grade II General George at Laurel and the Grade II Churchill Downs Handicap on Kentucky Derby Day.
After the race at Churchill, "a rear-end problem" was discovered during an examination, and Leatherbury decided to rest him.
"He was acting like he needed some time off," Leatherbury said. "The rear-end problem was minor. You couldn't detect it visually, but a medical scan uncovered it, and we figured it had bothered him. He just needed some time to let his body correct and heal up. I've brought him back slowly. No rush. And now at age 5, he should be fully mature."
Leatherbury said Ah Day "should be better at 5 than he was at 4" and predicts this year could be big for him.
Leatherbury, the third-winningest trainer in history, said he plans to enter his star next in the $300,000 General George Breeders' Cup Handicap on Feb. 18 at Laurel.