LAUREL -- Horses just a cut under Breeders' Cup caliber -- and there seems to be a lot of them -- get the spotlight today, one week before the $10 million championships are run at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
A $500,000 purse attracted 16 entries in the NYRA Mile Handicap, which will be simulcast from Aqueduct in New York to Laurel Race Course and the Pimlico intertrack outlet.
With the Kentucky Derby the only possible exception, 16 represents the limit in a race in North America. Rubiano, trained by Scotty Schulhofer, may rule a slight choice.
"This is his best distance and he's shown he can handle Aqueduct," Schulhofer said of the 4-year-old colt. Next Saturday, Schulhofer will saddle Scan in the Breeders' Cup Mile and Fly So Free in the Classic.
The NYRA Mile, run around one turn, was inaugurated three years ago to fill a void on New York's racing calendar. None of its starters will go in the Breeders' Cup, although a victory certainly would be a major coup for most.
Mr. Integrity, a speedy California shipper, has won four in a row after getting away poorly in his career debut, but the son of Mr. Prospector has never faced such strong competition.
"He's never been whipped or pushed," trainer Bob Hess said of those past four races.
The Japan Racing Association Handicap headlines the balance of today's 12-race Laurel card. Tribal Crown is the probable favorite off a victory in the Sir Ivor Stakes at Pimlico on Oct. 6. Mike Luzzi will ride Tribal Crown for his grandfather, Buddy Raines.
NOTES: New York's wagering system can handle as many as 16 interests, but Maryland's is limited to 14. So, at Laurel/Pimlico, Out of Place and Diablo constitute the mutuel field in the NYRA Mile. . . . Ann Landers (the horse) could use a little advice on how to run faster. The 2-year-old filly finished 12th in a field of 14 in her career debut yesterday at Laurel. . . . Edgar Prado, leading rider at the Laurel meet, will be absent today. He rides Grab the Green for trainer Barclay Tagg in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on the closing-day program at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky. No Laurel/Pimlico simulcast. . . . Miss Hot Dog gave Steve Moyer the first win of his training career in yesterday's Laurel opener. Moyer, the son of former Annapolis mayor Roger "Pip" Moyer, worked for legendary trainer Maurice Zilber for 3 years in France before returning home last fall.