Unlike a year ago, when Spectacular Bid was strongly favored to win the Laurel Futurity and clinch the 2-year-old Championship, trainer Bud Delp will saddle either a third or fourth choice among the eight juveniles entered today for the 1 1/16 mile event to be run Saturday at Pimlico.

Expected to be favored in the test is Joanie's Chief, conqueror of Rockhill Native in the Champagne Stakes.

Gold Stage, winner of Keeneland's Breeder's Futurity, appears in the second choice. New Regent, winner of four of seven starts, is gunning to become Canada's 2-year-old champion by winning here. With the talented Sandy Hawley up, New Regent will receive support.

Delp's hopes for a repeat victory rest with Rex Imperator, winner of the Dover and World's Playground Stakes. The son of King Emperor has won three of six races. One of his defeats results from a disqualification from first place in a Delaware Park allowance.

Rex Imperator forged to take the lead, but finished seventh in the seven-furlong Cowdin Stakes. "He hooked a toughie in Rockhill Native (the winner)," Delp said. "the track was sloppy and Tex doesn't like that kind of a track."

"Rex is a real nice horse but different than Spectacular Bid," said Ronnie Franklin, who handled Bid in last season's Laurel Futurity and will be on Rex Imperator this weekend.

"Rex will do about what he has to and no more. He likes to lay off the pace, then run at a horse. After he makes the lead, he won't go no further. Bid is just the opposite. But Rex has a shot."

For Franklin, the 20-year-old Dundalk, Md., rider who lost the mount on the Belmont Stakes, Rex Imperator could be the vehicle for the return to prominence.