Approaching this year's Triple Crown races, thoroughbred owner Ervin Kowitz of Owings Mills, Md., and trainer Paul Seefeldt had a few thousand buttons and bumper stickers produced to promote their colt. The slogan read, "Maryland's Thrill, Templar Hill," and the items were earmarked for distribution on Preakness day.

But when Templar Hill incurred a slight ankle ailment in his fifth-place Kentucky Derby finish, forcing him out of the Preakness, the promotion was put on hold. Now, nearly six months after the Preakness, Kowitz and Seefeldt might have occasion to use those items, after all.

Templar Hill spotted Baldski's Choice a three-length lead at the head of the stretch in yesterday's $44,400 Tri County Stakes at Laurel, then surged through the lane to defeat the pacesetter by a length. Green Book was third, six lengths behind the 7-to-5 favorite, who negotiated seven muddy furlongs in a rapid 1:23 2/5.

Cardiff, the Henry Clark-trained gelding who hadn't lost in four career starts, faded to fifth in the field of eight 3-year-olds.

The Tri County marked a successful homecoming for Templar Hill, who hadn't raced in Maryland since finishing second in the Federico Tesio on Feb. 28. The colt then took part in some of the East's top races for 3-year-olds; yesterday, fans at Laurel discovered what they've been missing.

Baldski's Choice shook off Cardiff and Radicchio early, then opened up by four lengths into the turn. As Radicchio dropped back, Greg Hutton advanced Templar Hill on the rail, alongside Cardiff.

"I wasn't surprised to see {Baldski's Choice} go by me," said Cardiff's jockey Gregg McCarron, "but when Templar Hill got there next to me, it caused me to get to riding my horse."

But he was no match. Templar Hill blew by Cardiff, and began cutting into the four-length lead of Baldski's Choice. Jockey Ben Feliciano applied steady pressure on the leader as he passed the furlong pole in 1:10 4/5, but his advantage was fast diminishing.

"At the sixteenth pole I put the stick away," Hutton said. "I said, 'I got it.' "

"I knew he was coming," Feliciano said, "and he went by me pretty easy."

Seefeldt said Templar Hill probably would run next in Laurel's one-mile, $50,000-added Annapolis Stakes on Thanksgiving Day.

"I still think this horse can go a mile and a half," Seefeldt said, and he has the paraphernalia to give to those who think the colt can do it, too.