At age 8, when most thoroughbred racers have regressed or retired, Sprizzo was taught to race.

This he was meant to do and do well, based on fashionable genes and sturdy legs. But for many years the Kentucky-bred son of Alydar was given no chance, veterinarians having determined that a throat defect wouldn't let him get too far.

He spent several years at stud on a Carroll County (Md.) farm and produced a speedy son, Sprizzo's Honor. But Sprizzo wasn't potent enough to gain acceptance as a commercial stallion, and Barry Schmehl bought him with racing in mind.

By then, doctors had found a way to repair Sprizzo's throat problem. He had the operation, and Jordan Rogers began training him early this year.

"We put somebody on the old man, and he sort of went straight off in an easy manner," said Rogers, 57, who had worked for a sportswear company before getting a trainer's license eight years ago. "We expected him to be fractious and sour, but it wasn't that way."

Because Maryland tracks don't have races for nonwinners above age 4, Sprizzo had to begin his career elsewhere. He made his debut March 24 at Delaware Park and finished next to last, 15 1/2 lengths behind the winner.

In his fourth try at Delaware, he sprinted to a four-length victory and gained clearance to race in Maryland, which has become little more than an unalienable right. He finished last in his first four starts here -- against horses of far greater ability -- after which he was dropped into claiming races. In four of those, he's been in the money once.

At 60-1 odds, he finished fifth against $6,500 claimers yesterday at Laurel, a noble effort considering he was blocked a spell in midstretch. He earned no pay, but Rogers wasn't disheartened; pleased with the ride by Alberto Delgado, he soon was negotiating to use the jockey for Sprizzo's next scheduled engagement at Laurel, July 17.

"That race was encouraging," Rogers said. "I'll get this bum to win. He will make it."

Rogers still hasn't tried Sprizzo against $5,000 claimers -- the cheapest in Maryland -- but he might have trouble finding a group of horses significantly weaker than Sprizzo faced yesterday. The race was restricted to horses who hadn't won more than once.

"This has been sort of a grand experiment," Rogers said. "He still has the ability to go back and stand. Once he's done, he'll go back home and finish out his days in style."

No More Bug

Michael Strickland ended his apprenticeship yesterday, his most productive of four rides a second-place finish aboard Braude's Baby in the sixth race. He's Maryland's second-leading apprentice this year with 37 winners. . . .

Valid Key won his first race in 16 months and ended a long winless streak for trainer Dean Gaudet, taking the $23,000 allowance feature by a nose over Chancellor Forbes. Bank Of Sharacco, the strong favorite, led after a super-fast quarter-mile of 21 4/5 seconds but was overtaken on the turn. Valid Key finished seven furlongs in 1:23 3/5 under Donnie Miller Jr.