Howard Wolfendale knew things were going well after he found a safety pin in Sir Dance's foot.

It happened the day before the horse was to race at Laurel and forced trainer Wolfendale to withdraw him. "It could have been a disaster," Wolfendale said. But that was hardly the case.

While Sir Dance stayed home with what proved to be a minor injury, Ebonizer went out and set a track record in the allowance race. Sir Dance's absence probably protected a winning streak for his owner, Rocco DeMilio, which stands at nine.

Special Ruler could give DeMilio his 10th in a row today at Laurel, but the claiming race is not quite foremost for Wolfendale. Later on the program he'll saddle Colonel Hill for the Maryland Juvenile Championship, with a $90,000 prize, a possible Maryland-bred title and his own professional growth on the line.

Wolfendale has excelled in the claiming game, but Colonel Hill represents a new breed for him. Whereas most of Wolfendale's horses are used when he gets them, Colonel Hill came gift-wrapped, a talented 2-year-old colt bred by owner Vic DiVivo. This is where Wolfendale wants to shed his image as a good claiming trainer and become regarded, simply, as a good trainer.

"You've got to do a little more with a horse like {Colonel Hill} than you do with the claimers," he said. "The claimers I don't train every day. These young horses, they've got to get to the racetrack almost every day. But they're not that much different. He's had his share {of injuries} already. He had a splint bone taken out of his back leg. They've all got problems."

Colonel Hill comes into the Juvenile with one race behind him, a three-length triumph over Maryland-breds in the six-furlong Devil's Bag Stakes. He was widening his lead at the wire, but today's race is not in that context, with another turn and 2 1/2 more furlongs to manage.

Colonel Hill must break this ground against Pretty Amusing, the only one of 10 entrants who has won an allowance race at 1 1/16 miles, and Haymaker, whom he passed in midstretch in the Devil's Bag.

Regardless of today's performances by Colonel Hill and Special Ruler, this has been a career season for Wolfendale, who ranks second with 24 victories in 56 tries. A 42.9 winning percentage normally would dominate any meeting, but Wolfendale is looking up at Ben Perkins Jr., who improved to 46.2 percent (18 for 39) yesterday with a win by Robert's Choice. And John Hartsell is pressing at 37.7 percent (20 for 53).

"Maybe it's just pushing me a little harder to stay up with these guys," Wolfendale said. "It used to be 30 percent was all right. Now you've got to do 40, and even then there's no guarantee."

Wolfendale, 34, got his trainer's license in 1977 after working for older brother Bill Wolfendale, also a Maryland trainer. The process was rooted by his family's involvement with show horses in Pittsburgh, although that didn't include Howard.

"I'm the only one in the whole family who didn't show anything," he said. "I didn't make it past the lead line {classes for children}."

He has had high-percentage meets before and broad success with claimers that go on his "program," but nothing like this. Even so, his clients are few and only 16 horses occupy his stable.

"The way the economy is, you can't expect anybody to step into the business right now," he said.

DiVivo and DeMilio are happy, and Wolfendale stands on the edge of new territory. "Everybody's talking to me before the {races}," he said. "We'll see how many come down afterward."