To gain a run for the roses, John the Bold must first plant the seed in today's $125,000 Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.
A victory in the Grade III event could present the son of Graustark with a trip to the Kentucky Derby a week from today.
"He's got to win this race to earn his passage for that trip," said trainer Billy Boniface, who won the Preakness in 1983 with Deputed Testamony, the last Maryland-bred to capture a Triple Crown race.
"I think he's on the top of his game right now and he'll be just perfect [today]."
This is the middle leg of a three-race plan for John the Bold. The first was the 1 1/8 -mile Deputed Testamony Stakes on April 4 at Pimlico in which he held off the fast-closing Frottage by a head.
But that was not a graded stakes, and to make the anticipated 20-horse field for the Derby, John the Bold must have some graded stakes earnings. A victory today would be worth $75,000, enough to bump some other prospective Derby runners from the field.
In his final workout at Boniface's Bonita Farm, John the Bold went six furlongs in 1 minute, 17 seconds with his regular jockey, Larry Reynolds Jr.
Reynolds said the colt "has started to impress me" after his last two outings, a seven-length triumph in an allowance race at Laurel and the Deputed Testamony.
With Dash For Dotty not running-- the result of a controversy over his nomination -- the chief competition is expected from Frottage, Speakerphone and Ameri Valay.
Speakerphone is coming off a three-length victory in the six-furlong Hirsch Jacobs stakes two weeks ago in a quick 1:10 2/5, and Frottage won two in a row before John the Bold edged him in the Deputed Testamony.
Ameri Valay also has solid credentials, including a three-length win in the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel March 7, but gave way in the Deputed Testamony and finished fourth, beaten by 8 3/4 lengths.
Trainer Richard Small said "Frottage is coming along real well. The distance suits him and if it comes up muddy it won't hurt his chances."
Mud is a distinct possibility with the forecast for thundershowers this weekend. Yesterday's card was completed over a muddy track.
But the focus remains on John the Bold, owned and bred by Margaret McManus, wife of ABC sportscaster Jim McKay, who has devoted considerable time to helping upgrade Maryland racing.
Boniface said if John the Bold goes to Kentucky, it will be to win.
"I don't ever go to a race just to be there," he said. "The key to the Derby is to have a colt peaking at the right time. If ever there was a horse peaking at the right time, it's this one."
At Pimlico yesterday, an unidentified patron hit the Double Triple yesterday for $174,909.30. Tomorrow's feature, the $100,000 Gallorette Handicap, will be the first of 33 scheduled turf races in Maryland this season. Grab The Green, ridden by one of the nation's premier jockeys, Jose Santos, is high-weighted at 122 pounds and is expected to be the favorite in the 1 1/8 -mile event.
PP .. Horse .. .. .. .. Jockey .. .. Wgt.
1 .. Ameri Valay .. .. No rider .. ..119
2 .. Speakerphone .. .. Ladner .. .. 114
3 .. Maryland Moon .. .. No rider .. 117
4 .. Coin Collector .. Kuykendall .. 114
.. Golden Phase .. .. Hutton .. .. 114
6 .. Exit West .. .. .. Pino .. .. ..117
7 .. Berkley Fitz .. .. Ferrer .. .. 114
8 .. Coringa .. .. .. ..Guerra .. .. 117
9 .. John the Bold .. Reynolds .. ...119
10 ..Melissa's Best ..Martinez .. ...114
11 ..Frottage .. .. ..Prado .. .... .119