LAUREL -- Just when Baron de Vaux was ready to re-enter the racing wars, he fell victim to a virus.
"It was the kind of sickness that 2-year-olds get every spring," said owner Bayard Sharp, "except all my older horses got it."
Finally, the 4-year-old colt makes his first appearance today since last fall, when he concluded a 14-race season that earned Sharp $618,920. He faces seven other Maryland-breds in the $75,000 Find Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on the Laurel Race Course turf.
Baron de Vaux was the second-best Maryland-bred 3-year-old last year behind Restless Con, according to a panel of turf writers. The colt won four times, but his most notable accomplishments were a third-place finish in the Belmont Stakes and a runner-up finish to Restless Con in the Haskell Invitational.
A berth in the Find culminates a long wait for Sharp and trainer Charlie Peoples, who operate from Sharp's farm in Middletown, Del.
"He was just about ready to run before he got sick," said Sharp. "Charlie's put a lot back into him. I know this might be a tough race, but he's easy to have around and he's been training real well. You've got to start somewhere."
Sharp said because the colt has had "a light schedule" this year and might become the dominant horse in the local handicap ranks in the coming months, he is not leaning toward retiring Baron de Vaux to stud at the end of this year.
Baron de Vaux's top opponents today figure to be Divine Warning, Little Bold John, Rebuff and Muddy Rudder.
The Find will be preceded by the simulcast of the Whitney Handicap from Saratoga Race Course. In Excess is a heavy favorite in a field of seven older horses that includes Maryland-based Runaway Stream.
Tomorrow, another top Maryland-bred will experience a couple of firsts.
Safely Kept, who became just the second Maryland-bred to surpass the $2 million earnings mark when she finished third in the De Francis Dash two weeks ago, will be making her first attempt in a distance race tomorrow. She also gets a new rider in Rick Wilson.
The 5-year-old mare goes in the $150,000-added Monmouth Park Breeders' Cup, a 1-mile, 70-yard race for fillies and mares.
Barry Weisbord, who owns the mare in partnership with Jayeff B Stable, said Wilson will replace Corey Black, who rode her in the De Francis. He added that he has been wanting to run her in a distance event for quite a while.
"[Trainer] Alan [Goldberg] felt real strongly that he'd like to give her the opportunity [to try two turns]," said Weisbord. "I don't want to be thinking later, 'Should we have tried this?' "
Safely Kept has been ridden most often by Craig Perret, but Perret chose her rival, Housebuster, over her for the De Francis and plans to stay with him.
NOTES: Jockey Edgar Prado said yesterday that he was only a little sore after a spill at Laurel on Tuesday, but he was feeling rough enough Thursday to take himself off Grab the Green, who won the Nijana Stakes at Saratoga. Angel Cordero replaced him. Prado rode 3 yesterday at Laurel, winning none. . . . The Find Handicap was Baron de Vaux's final start last fall when it was run on Breeders' Cup day (Oct. 27). A shift in the stakes schedule has it as a summer race now. . . . Broad Brush [over $2.6 million] is the only other Maryland-bred to scale the $2 million mark. . . . The logjam atop the riders' standings continues: Mario Pino (20 winners) leads Mike Luzzi (19), Jo Jo Ladner (19) and Wilson (17).