Mike Trombetta, the top Maryland trainer in percentage a year ago, is scheduled to visit the winner's circle before the sixth race at Laurel Park today for a special presentation acknowledging that achievement.
He hopes to make a return trip later in the program.
Trombetta will saddle morning-line favorite Control System for the Grade II, $300,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap, the co-feature of the track's three-stakes Presidents Day weekend, the most lucrative of the winter season in Maryland.
To gain a return trip for another photo session, his charge will have to stave off several highly regarded New York entrants, who will descend on Laurel en masse for both the Fritchie and the Grade II, $300,000 General George Breeders' Cup Handicap on Monday. Both sprints are run at seven furlongs.
Also on today's card is the $95,000 John B. Campbell Handicap for older horses at 1 1/8 miles.
Control System, winner of five of seven starts, will be making her debut on the track where she trains after competing in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. She will also be running for the richest purse of her career.
"We wanted to try her a little farther," said Trombetta, whose horse has prospered at shorter distances. "So far, she's done everything we've asked of her."
Defending champion Oprah Winney out of the Richard Dutrow barn, the defending champion, figures to be the toughest of six shippers coming in to test Control System, who beat her in the Interborough Handicap in their most recent head-to-head meeting.
Oprah Winney, a New York-bred horse, won the Fritchie in front-running fashion last year, but Control System ran away from her in the Interborough. Trombetta said he would leave the race strategy to jockey Julian Pimentel.
"She's versatile," Trombetta said. "She can go to the front or lay off the pace. The jockey won't get a whole lot of instruction from me. He'll have to make the decision where to place her."
Another to consider is Karakorum Starlet, a daughter of the great Skip Away, who was second ahead of Oprah Winney in the Interborough and is seasoned at the distance. In addition, jockey Jeremy Rose will guide her.
"I wanted to take a shot because she is deserving of it off her last race and in her daily training regimen," trainer Jeff Odintz said. "Every time she runs, she shows like she is ready to move up to the next level."
If there is another local hope, it is probably Maryland-bred For Kisses, trained by Richard Small. A Not For Love offspring, she won the Squan Song Stakes at seven furlongs in mid-December. Rosie Napravnik will ride.
Seven will go in the Campbell, headed by Todd Pletcher-trained Nite Light, who is on a three-race winning streak; Angliana, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin; and Naughty New Yorker, if trainer Patrick Kelly decides to send him. Happy Surprise, winner of the Maryland Million Turf Sprint last fall, is the major local threat.
Ah Day, the star of the King Leatherbury stable, was expected to headline the General George but will not compete because of an injury to his right shoulder. He was second in the race last year.
"The injury happened while he was in the stall," Leatherbury said. "I can't explain it, and the vets don't know why but did tell me it will take three months to heal. He will be back. Maybe next year we can win the General George."
In his absence, New York-based horses figure to be the ones to beat.