Just because trainer Frank Alexander likes Maryland, hi reasons for traveling to Pimlico Race Course today aren't exactly pleasantries and nostalgia.
Alexander, a Maryland regular in the 1970s, calls his former home "a great place. We've always been lucky shipping back there." And he's hoping the luck of the Irish will be with his promising 3-year-old, King Mutesa, in the $175,000 Federico Tesio Stakes on the St. Patrick's Day program at Pimlico.
King Mutesa, Alexander says, is good enough to take him to the Kentucky Derby for the second straight year. Last year, Alexander made his Derby debut with sixth-place finisher Killer Diller.
"This horse is legitimate," he said yesterday from his Belmont Park stable in New York. "Haymaker [the heavy Tesio favorite] isn't going to get away by himself. My colt can run either way. His last race, he just dogged the leader and had him measured all the way."
King Mutesa, a son of Baldski, has had just five career starts, winning three; he did not make his debut until Dec. 13. "He was a great big horse who needed time to mature," said Alexander, 52.
The Haymaker camp is confident of a wire-to-wire victory in the 1 1/8 -mile Tesio, Maryland's only major prep for the Triple Crown. Trainer Carlos Garcia said Friday that he was not worried about ** King Mutesa or any of his four other rivals: Fire In Ice, He Is Risen, Tong Po or A Call to Rise.
Alexander said Haymaker "is definitely the one to beat, but he'll really have to run to beat my horse."
Both Garcia and Alexander say they have colts worthy of running in the Triple Crown.
"There are plenty of options after this," said Alexander. "If he [King Mutesa] wins, and I think he can, I might just wait on the Wood Memorial [April 13 at Aqueduct]."
* Silver Tango, the 3-5 favorite, maintained her perfect record with an all-out victory over Early Message in the $43,050 &L Forsythia Stakes at Pimlico yesterday.
Silver Tango, now 4-for-4, is owned by Phil and Constance Capuano of Upper Marlboro and trained by their son, Gary. Early Message is trained by Dale Capuano, another son.
"It's tough racing against your own son," Phil said, wincing.
Early Message, the 5-2 second choice, had a big lead throughout. Silver Tango, still three lengths behind in mid-stretch of the six-furlong race, gained steadily before finally getting the lead just before the wire.
"I was concerned at the eighth pole," said Mike Luzzi, who rode Silver Tango, "but she was trying hard."
Silver Tango, a 3-year-old filly, is the first stakes winner for Gary Capuano; she won a minor stakes at Philadelphia Park in her prior start. She was purchased last May for $3,800.
NOTES: Another unbeaten sophomore filly, Meadow Star, didn't have as much trouble yesterday. The champion 2-year-old filly of 1990 throttled four rivals when making her 1991 debut at Aqueduct. She ran her career mark to 8-for-8 with a 4 3/4 -length victory in a minor stakes even, running seven furlongs in 1 minute, 23 seconds. Chris Antley rode. . . . Split Run is the 8-5 program favorite in today's $200,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park. Compelling Sound is listed at 3-1 and Sea Cadet at 7-2. . . . The top three finishers in the Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel last month meet again today in the $109,000 Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct. Fappaburst beat Devil's Orchid by 1 1/2 lengths in the Fritchie, with Diva's Debut third. . . . Trainer Gerald Brooks has been suspended 15 days after Springazette, trained by Brooks, tested positive for ketorolac (Toradol), a Bute-like medication that acts as an anti-inflammatory analgesic. And trainer Ross Pearce has been fined $500 after one of his horses tested positive for tetramisole, a banned anti-fungal medicine.