Ideally situated as a Preakness Stakes prep race, the $150,000 nationally televised Federico Tesio Stakes for 3-year-old colts today nevertheless has fallen victim to the same illness plaguing much of the racing at Pimlico Race Course this spring -- a shortage of horses.

As of Tuesday, only four colts had signed on to run, one short of the number necessary for the race to be held, but two late supplemental entries have brought the field to six. With far more lucrative stakes offered to 3-year-olds at tracks around the country, the Tesio, which lost its Grade III status in 1997, no longer is seen as much of a viable option for trainers planning to skip the Kentucky Derby but targeting the Preakness Stakes the third Saturday in May.

"It's a small purse when you compare it to the other Derby trial races around it, but it's an exceptional opportunity for horses looking to run in the Preakness and Maryland breds like Magic Weisner last year," Pimlico stakes coordinator David Rollinson said.

Magic Weisner, the offspring of a mare bought by its owner for $1, became a national racing sensation last year after using a runner-up finish in the Tesio as a springboard to nearly toppling War Emblem in the Preakness at odds of 45-1. Other colts who have made an impact on Triple Crown races after prepping in the Tesio include 1983 Preakness winner Deputed Testamony, the great Broad Brush, Private Terms and Oliver's Twist.

The two early favorites for the race today are Cherokee's Boy, who has amassed a bankroll of $324,929 while being carefully spotted by trainer Gary Capuano, and Gimmeawink, who showed tremendous potential in winning the Miracle Wood Stakes on Feb. 8 at Laurel Park.

Both colts tested deeper waters, Cherokee's Boy in the Grade II Illinois Derby on April 5 and Gimmeawink in the Grade III Gotham Stakes on March 16. Both finished off the board. Gimmeawink, however, had a difficult trip starting from the outside post, and trainer Tim Ritchey expects a far better performance this afternoon.

"He's a very good 3-year-old; whether he's the caliber of some of the top 3-year-olds in the country, he hasn't shown me that yet," said Ritchey, who put Gimmeawink through a snappy five-furlong workout in 59.60 seconds April 14 at Delaware Park.

Ritchey will give strong consideration to a Preakness run if Gimmeawink runs "a dynamite race." He wishes the Tesio offered a greater purse. "It should be a minimum of $250,000 or more, but [the track] doesn't have the money to do it," he said.

Racing Notes: Laurel Park-based trainer Ben Feliciano Jr. began serving a 15-day suspension Thursday after his horse Crossing Point was disqualified following a victory in the $80,550 Paumonok Handicap on Jan. 25 at Aqueduct. A post-race drug test turned up clenbuterol, an anabolic steroid prohibited in New York. Feliciano's horse Home Run Hitter won the $75,000 Smart Halo Stakes last Sunday at Pimlico, defeating 1-9 shot Randaroo.