Since winning the Maryland Million Classic last fall, 6-year-old gelding Presidentialaffair has stepped onto the track and faced some of the top handicap horses in the country. The front-runner finished third after leading most of the way in the Pimlico Special the day before the Preakness, then was crushed by Saint Liam in June in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.

After finishing a lackluster fourth Aug. 28 in a stakes race at Monmouth Park, Presidentialaffair will return Saturday to Laurel Park, the scene of his greatest triumph, to try to get back on track and win the Classic again.

Trained by Martin Ciresa and ridden by Stewart Elliott, jockey of the great Smarty Jones, Presidentialaffair will face six other runners in the $250,000 race, the highlight of the 20th Maryland Million card, a 12-race showcase for the offspring of Maryland stallions and the second-biggest day of racing in the state.

"He's been in steady training," Ciresa said of Presidentialaffair, installed as the 9-5 favorite for the race. "We were trying to get him right after detecting an [injury] that prevented him from running well in his last few starts. He's so tough."

Perhaps Presidentialaffair's biggest rival in the 13/16-mile Classic will be Cherokee's Boy, a 2003 Preakness entrant who has won 13 races and $845,596 for trainer Gary Capuano.

"He has collected a check in every race but the Preakness," said co-owner Dave Picarello. "We think the distance might be too far, but it is Maryland Million Day; you have to take a shot. We'll need a little help. Maybe Presidentialaffair will not be on top of his game, and we'll be able to pick up the pieces down the stretch."

Through the Maryland-bred horse fund, total purse money has increased for the Maryland Million this year from $1.125 million to $1.43 million. Six of the 12 races, including the Classic, have purse increases of $50,000.

Four horses that won Maryland Million races last year are back to defend their titles, including My Poker Player, who took the Maryland Million Sprint Handicap. The New York-based runner will have a tough time scoring again because of the presence of Saay Mi Name, a 5-year-old gelding based at Bowie, who has blossomed into one of the fastest runners in the state.

Dr. Detroit, a 6-year-old gelding trained by Ann Merryman at Pimlico, returns to defend his title in the $150,000 Maryland Million Turf, which he won last year at odds of 23-1.

-- John Scheinman