As horse racing's prime season races on, seven Maryland horses who have excited local horsemen are entering new stages of their careers.
Veteran runners are taking stock, while new names are rising.
Ah Day, Maryland's 2006 Horse of the Year, is working his way back from a shoulder injury.
Sweetnorthernsaint, owned by Marylanders Ted Theos and Joe Balsamo, has been transferred from Laurel Park-based trainer Mike Trombetta to Leo Azpurua Jr., who began his training career at the Bowie Training Center in 1987 and is now based at Gulfstream.
"My major goal is to have him come back to what he was," Azpurua said, referring to the horse's 3-year-old season, when he won five of eight races and was the betting favorite in the Kentucky Derby and the runner-up in the Preakness.
Saint's last victory came a year ago at Laurel Park in the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Handicap. In his most recent race, he finished last among nine horses in the Grade II San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita Park.
Meanwhile, two 3-year-old fillies, Bsharpsonata, trained by Tim Salzman, and Access Fee, trained by Larry Murray, have caught the eyes of local horsemen.
Bsharp, who has already won two Grade II races this year, is to start Saturday in the Grade I $500,000 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland.
Meanwhile, Murray said the excitement over Access Fee, who has won her first two starts impressively, might be premature: "This filly sprints very well, but I don't know who she has beaten."
A 3-year-old colt in trainer Tim Tullock's Laurel Park barn, Gattopardo, will probably start in Saturday's Grade III Bay Shore Stakes at Aqueduct, though his owner said there is an outside chance the son of Johannesburg could start that day in the Grade I Wood Memorial.
"We could have the best seven-furlong horse in the country," owner Mike Ueltzen said, shortly after watching his colt turn in a 58-second workout spanning five furlongs. "The smart thing to do would be to run him in the Bay Shore. That's what Tim is recommending. But the Wood could come up softer [less competitive]."
Ueltzen said the final decision would be made tomorrow. Both races draw Thursday.
The dreamer in Ueltzen would love to run Gattopardo in the Wood, have him do well and advance him to the Kentucky Derby. The realist in Ueltzen knows the Bay Shore is the logical next step for the horse coming off a March 1 victory in the seven-furlong Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel Park.
"If we chose the Bay Shore, then, well, we'd skip the Derby and go after the Preakness," Ueltzen said, adding that to have a horse in the second leg of the Triple Crown Series would be a dream. "It's like having lightning strike."
Trainer King Leatherbury said Ah Day is recovering well from pulled right shoulder ligaments that caused him to be scratched from the General George Handicap in February.
"He's about four or five more weeks away from getting back to training," Leatherbury said. "About two months after that, he should be back to a race."
Two others who had excited their trainers earlier this season, the Gary Capuano-trained Wonder Mon and the Trombetta-trained Cave's Valley, have proven to be solid horses, but not up to top 3-year-old competition.
"Wonder Mon's Florida experience was tough," Capuano said of the horse who was beaten twice. "He got outrun. ... We'll see how he trains going forward."
As for Cave's Valley, who has lost his past three races after winning his first three, Trombetta said he is "a work in progress."
Trombetta declined to elaborate on Sweetnorthernsaint's move to another trainer.
What's going on with Maryland's top horses:
Ah Day: Recovering from strained shoulder ligaments.
Sweetnorthernsaint: Adjusting to new trainer, no plans before late May.
Bsharpsonata: Will enter in Saturday's Grade I $500,000 Ashland Stakes, Keeneland.
Gattopardo: Entered in Saturday's Grade I $750,000 Wood Memorial or Grade III $150,000 Bay Shore Stakes, Aqueduct.
Access Fee: Pointing toward $100,000 Peach Blossom, Delaware Park, April 19.
Wonder Mon: In training. No immediate plans.
Cave's Valley: A month to six weeks from next race.