When Ben Perkins Jr. declined to take Tank to this year's Kentucky Derby, he did so with the knowledge that it probably wasn't his last chance to return to Churchill Downs.
Perkins, 35, went two years ago with Faultless Ensign (14th at 74-1). He came away with the feeling that the Derby experience is not a worthwhile one without a solid contender.
Not that Tank isn't potentially as good at this year's favorites -- "He's just short on seasoning," Perkins said -- but when Perkins returns, he'll be loaded for bear.
Perkins has been awesome since making Laurel Race Course his main base early last year. He won with 30 percent of his starters in Maryland in l990 and has nearly maintained that pace this year.
And the best may be yet to come. Success begets success, and with the recent additions of wealthy owners, Perkins' barns at Laurel and the Bowie training center are bulging with expensive, talented 2-year-olds.
Maryland trainers Carlos Garcia and Bernie Bond have reputations for mastery with 2-year-olds and being "on go" when juveniles begin racing in late spring. But Perkins probably has the horses to assume local superiority come "baby race" time.
And then, as Perkins said earlier this week about the Derby: "Maybe next time."
* The Racing Times, which began publishing and distributing its past-performance paper in several major markets two weeks ago, still hasn't found its way to Maryland tracks.
In fact, it probably won't be carrying Maryland past performances for three weeks, said a spokesman for the newspaper.
Still, there are signs of Racing Times' imminent invasion into Maryland -- literal signs that the paper is serious about taking away some of Daily Racing Form's customers. A billboard on Park Heights Avenue, just outside the Pimlico gates proclaims: "Substance Over Form."
Six years ago, when Sports Eye took on the Form, the effort was a halfhearted one. But the fact that Racing Times has bought billboard space is enough to make one believe it will be going all-out to win over racing fans.
Meanwhile, the planned sale of the From has experts scratching their heads over what implications a sale could have on the impending war. The New York Times reported Friday that Rupert Murdoch has agreed to sell the Form as part of a $600 million package deal to a partnership controlled by Kohlbert Kravis Roberts & Co., a New York buyout company.
Robert Maxwell, Murdoch's archrival in the publishing business, said one thing that that compelled him to start the Racing Times was to smash the past-performance monopoly that Murdoch had with the Form.