There will be no Maryland-bred horses in America's most famous horse race.
At least, that's the scenario 10 days before the 117th running of the Kentucky Derby, unless a miracle should happen and a maiden named Big Al's Express makes it into the race.
The closest thing Maryland has to a legitimate participant will be Florida-bred Green Alligator. The colt is trained by Murray Johnson and his wife, the former Kim Houghton, who grew up on the Eastern Shore. The Johnsons and her grandfather, Anderson Fowler, who owns the horse, just made the decision last night to definitely run in the Derby.
Tank, considered best of the local hopefuls, will skip the race, his trainer Ben Perkins Jr. said yesterday.
Perkins reiterated that decision even after he learned that Dinard, the pre-race favorite, had been scratched because of a leg injury.
What's more, Perkins added, the striking 3-year-old colt, owned by Mrs. Allaire du Pont of Chesapeake City, won't start in the Preakness either.
"Mrs. du Pont feels that the horse isn't seasoned enough," Perkins said.
The 3-year-old son of 1985 Preakness winner Tank's Prospect has raced only five times, winning three races.
"She thinks it's an awful lot of pressure to put on a young horse so early in the year," Perkins said. "I think she saw what happened to Cahill Road in the Wood Memorial [the colt broke down after winning the race] and thought that sort of thing could happen to her horse, too."
Instead, Tank is scheduled to make his next start in the $300,000 Jersey Derby at Garden State Park May 31.
"If he runs well in that race, he could go in the Belmont Stakes," Perkins said.
One other Maryland-bred, the maiden Big Al's Express, is stabled at Churchill Downs, but is considered a dubious, as well as doubtful, Derby starter.
The horse was shipped across country from northern California in a one-horse trailer last week expressly to run in the race. The colt, foaled locally at Sagamore Farm, has never started in a race.
His trainer, Thomas Allen, told Churchill Downs officials that he wants to start him Saturday in the Derby Trial.
But the colt just received his gate card today. A gate card is mandatory for every horse before it can start in a race at any track.
The starter, in this case Tom Wagner at Churchill Downs, has to approve every horse before it can run. The horse has to show him that he is schooled well enough to break straight and alertly.
The horse tried for his card yesterday, but Wagner said, "The horse sat down in the gate, wallowed around, and it took two men to get him upstanding."
The horse eventually broke from the gate and worked a slow seven furlongs in 1 minute, 31 seconds.
Wagner did not approve him for the card.
The horse came back this morning, walked in and stood in the gate and Wagner gave him the go-ahead to start in the Derby Trial. He is supposed to return to the gate tomorrow for more schooling.
Big Al's Express is sired by former Maryland stallion Bear Hunt, who now stands in Canada. Bear Hunt finished 18th in the 1984 Derby.
Although foaled in Maryland, Big Al's Express was bred by Ellen Kill Kelley from Nokesville, Va. She sold the horse as an unraced 2-year-old through a classified ad in a trade journal to Allen.
"He bought the horse sight unseen, although we did send him photos of the horse before he bought it," Kelley said.
Only one Maryland-bred has ever won the Derby. That was Kauai King, who won the race in 1966.
Last year, Maryland-bred Land Rush finished seventh.