Fans received free pumpkin pies after yesterday's seventh race at Laurel Race Course. Less than an hour later, many in the crowd of 12,109 whet their betting appetites on Templar Hill, making him a 2-to-5 favorite in the $64,000 Annapolis Stakes.
In his previous start, Templar Hill allowed Baldski's Choice to take a four-length lead, then passed him in the deep stretch with an explosive rally. Few doubted he could do it again yesterday. Baldski's Choice was 14-to-1 in the Annapolis, and even his veteran trainer, Bernie Bond, said, "I didn't think there was any way possible we could beat Templar Hill."
On Thanksgiving Day, Bond was delighted to eat crow. Baldski's Choice again sprinted to the lead under jockey Ben Feliciano, but this time had no trouble holding on for a one-length victory over Conquer.
Templar Hill didn't get untracked until he was five furlongs into the mile race. Jockey Greg Hutton brought him from fifth place into third through the turn, and he was fast approaching second-place Conquer. He traveled three-wide into the stretch, but the vigor he'd shown in the Tri County Stakes 12 days ago was lacking yesterday. He wound up a half-length behind the Wayne Lukas-trained Conquer and nearly two lengths behind the winner.
"He just wasn't himself in the first part of it," Hutton said. "Usually, he's right up on the bit, but I didn't see any of that today."
Templar Hill saw plenty of Baldski's Choice, who opened up a three-length lead on the Canadian colt Present Value while setting fractions of 23 3/5 seconds and :46 2/5. Present Value then fell back and, without being pressed for the lead, Baldski's Choice had enough to repel the tepid challenges of Conquer and Templar Hill, finishing in 1:36 2/5.
"Anybody who lets this horse steal off on the lead," Feliciano said, "is gonna make it awfully hard on themselves."
Now with 15 starts in 1987, Baldski's Choice seems to be hitting his stride. Before his second-place finish in the Tri County, he had been better than fourth only once in his previous six tries -- none of them stakes races. Bond had tried him in short races, long races, dirt races, turf races; and even though Baldski's Choice has run his two best races on dirt -- at seven and eight furlongs -- Bond isn't certain that's the winning formula.
"Nothing I did has made this horse become a winner," Bond said. "All of a sudden, he just happened to get good."