LAUREL -- The father-and-son training team of Ben Perkins Sr. and Jr. have made it perfectly clear.
The Kentucky Derby is only two weeks away.
Tank, the 3-year-old colt they train for Allaire duPont, the doyenne of Chesapeake City, couldn't be doing better.
In fact, the chestnut colt shimmers with such good health and stunningly handsome appearance that at least one trainer at Pimlico, Mike Trombetta, was moved to say yesterday: "He's just about the best-looking horse I've ever seen."
But the Perkinses are taking their time and are not going to be pressured into making a hasty decision about running the animal in America's most famous horse race.
It is just this kind of management style -- grace under pressure, if you will -- that is making the Perkinses the trainers of choice for many of Maryland's wealthiest horse owners.
The Perkinses arrived on the local scene about a year ago from New Jersey with about 25 horses and a solid reputation for acquiring, and training, quality stock.
Ben Sr., 57, had won a Jersey Derby and the Haskell Handicap, Monmouth Park's "Midsummer Derby" with Five Star Flight. The elder Perkins is particularly savvy with owners -- he's a paid consultant as well as trainer for Mrs. duPont's breeding and racing empire -- and obviously has an eye for a good horse.
Ben Jr., 35, is his Ivy League-educated son. The younger Perkins graduated with an economics degree from the undergraduate program at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He had trained Willowy Mood, who won the Barbara Fritchie Handicap in 1987, and On To Royalty, another multiple stakes-winning filly. He's engaging and out-going as well as knowing his way around a shedrow. He still commutes back-and-forth to his home near Cherry Hill, N.J. He and his wife, Susan, a psychologist, have two small children, Ben, 7, and Rebecca, 3.
But, most importantly, the Perkinses know how to win. And that's just what their horses do about 25 percent of the time.
Since coming to Maryland, young Perkins estimates they have won close to 80 races. They are especially dear to track management who love nothing better than to have such a first-class outfit on the grounds. Their horses are installed in the choicest of locations, at International Village at Laurel, a four-barn complex nestled in a grove of trees with ample grazing area. It's the most plush, most desirable spot on any Maryland backstretch.
About a quarter of the 56-horse string are either stakes winners or stakes-placed. Horses like Tank, recently arrived Valay Maid, Stalker, Hero's Hurrah, Diane's Girl, Chrissy's Secret, Nasty Hero, Crowned, Six Speed, Good Scout and Far Out Nurse live in stalls banked knee-deep in shavings in large, airy stalls.
In addition to Mrs. duPont's Bohemia Stable, the Perkinses train for her neighbor Richard Golden and the Helmore Farm racing partnerships, put together by Baltimore utilities magnate Edgar Lucas and his son Dale.
Since coming to Maryland the Perkinses have doubled the size of their operation, picking up the Dumbarton Farm horses of building mogul Joseph Keelty, Green Willow Farm and Herman Greenberg. When Frank and Ginny Wright of Hampstead decided to move their eight horses, including champion Valay Maid, away from Carlos Garcia, the Perkinses were the natural choice.
All of this is downplayed by young Perkins, who says it's just the natural progression of things "when you win races."
As for Tank, he was a slow learner who was so clumsy when he first came in last summer that he couldn't keep up with their other 2-year-olds such as Good Scout, Robert's Choice or I'm Wild. "In fact, he was in the second tier, at the bottom," Perkins said.
"He was bad breaking from the gate, so we gave him a series of half-mile works trying to put some speed into him."
When the Perkinses ran him for the first time, at Belmont Park early last fall, they weren't too hopeful and entered him for a $75,000 claiming tag.
Perkins said no one was more amazed than they when he won off by nine lengths.
"After that, we knew what we had and put him away for the rest of the year," he said.
When stretched out to two turns this spring, the colt has been unbeatable in local company and a week ago won the Garden State Stakes by 7 1/2 lengths.
That's what has prompted the Derby talk.
"We will work him a stout three quarters, probably next Thursday or Friday," Perkins said. "Then, if he's still doing well, we assess the field and if we think we have a good shot at running well -- and Mrs. duPont is happy with the decision -- it's on to Churchill Downs."