When a horse debuts in a $14,500 claiming race in October, he isn't likely to run in a $100,000 stakes race in November. But Fair Royale not only has accomplished such a feat, he is expected to be well supported in today's $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Championship for 2-year-old Maryland-breds at Laurel.

That Fair Royale is 7 to 2 in the morning line -- third choice among eight entries -- is both an acknowledgement of his progress and an indictment of the field's quality. Gospel Note (2 to 1), the Tom Caviness-trained colt fresh off a victory in Laurel's Devil's Bag Stakes, is the only entrant other than Fair Royale who has won more than once.

And the colt with the poorest winning percentage, Cefis (one for eight, .125), is the early 8-to-5 favorite for three reasons: he's trained by Hall of Famer Woody Stephens, he has raced against some of New York's better 2-year-olds and he's scheduled to be ridden today by Eddie Maple.

Despite his one victory -- in the mud at Saratoga -- Cefis has earned $58,617, high in today's field. Most recently, he was second on the turf in Aqueduct's Pilgrim Stakes and fourth in the Grade I Remsen.

"Except for {Cefis}, the rest of us are still running against Maryland-breds," said Eddie Brown Jr., trainer of Fair Royale. "I don't think anyone can tell you exactly what he's up against."

In Fair Royale, Cefis faces a gelding who, if not for Brown, might never have had a chance to race. One of Brown's exercise riders knew Fair Royale's owner and breeder, Harry Arnold, who was uncertain whether Fair Royale had a future in racing. Brown worked with the horse, liked what he saw, and later placed him in a $14,500 race for nonwinners at Laurel Oct. 8. Under Greg Hutton, Fair Royale won by four lengths and paid $54.60.

"{Trainer} Eddie Gaudet once told me, 'Keep yourself in the best company, keep your horse in the worst,' " Brown said. "A newspaper had referred to {Fair Royale's} breeding {by Tryst Royale, out of Notso Fair} as obscure. With that in mind, where would you start?"

From there, Fair Royale won an allowance race (paying $45.60), then was a fast-closing second in Gospel Note's one-length victory in the seven-furlong Devil's Bag 13 days back. In that race, Gospel Note ran down the fleet King's Snow around the turn, surged to nearly a five-length lead in early stretch, and was in hand under Michael Hunter when Fair Royale and Wasso Junior launched their late bids.

With no significant speed in today's 1 1/16-mile race (out of the chute), Hunter and Gospel Note likely will get the lead, a target for Cefis and Fair Royale.