Joan Boniface gazed at the rangy bay colt standing in the fourth stall from the end of the Bonita Farm training barn.
"For some reason, he looks bigger today," she said about the horse whose stall card reads "Oliver's Twist."
It's tough to beat the Kentucky Derby winner, Thunder Gulch, and still lose the Preakness.
But no one was dwelling much on it yesterday after "Oliver's" half-length loss to Timber Country.
Cards, calls, faxes, gifts of carrots, a poem describing the horse running "as if suspended in air" were all being channeled into the Harford County farm.
Meanwhile in the Pimlico jockeys quarters, the horse's rider, Alberto Delgado, was getting the same treatment.
"You'd have thought we won the race," he said.
Not since local Hall of Fame trainer, Henry Clark, ran second with Linkage in 1982 has a Maryland-based horse that failed to win the Preakness received so much attention.
But, Saturday's loss was oh-so-close.
Years from now, Delgado, trainer Billy Boniface and the horse's owner, Charlie Oliver, will re-play the Preakness run and wonder "what if."
What if Oliver's Twist had gotten off to a better start? What if he hadn't been blocked in mid-stretch? What if racing space had opened up a fifth of a second sooner? What if Delgado had swung to the outside instead of waiting to forge his way through Talkin Man and Star Standard?
But, no one had to be reminded yesterday that close only counts in horseshoes.
Life, Billy Boniface said, returned to normalcy almost immediately once Oliver's Twist got back to his stall at Bonita Farm on Saturday night and had wolfed down his dinner.
The horse, who has "Maryland" written all over him in the lineage of both his equine and human connections, had attracted a larger crowd for his post-Preakness bath at Pimlico than D. Wayne Lukas' winner.
"Lukas even went out of his way to come over and congratulate us," said Billy Boniface.
Two Boniface daughters didn't make the race. Bonita was helping trainer Joe Gillet run his jumpers at the Radnor (Pa.) steeplechase meet.
Another daughter, Kim, who works on the backstretch at Churchill Downs, watched it on TV from Lukas' tack room at the Kentucky track.
Kevin Boniface, who assists his father in the training barn, designs the horse's daily training regimen, and his wife Chris, gallops him.
"He returned with only one little nick [on a hind heel]," Kevin Boniface said.
His brother, Billy, is responsible for mating the mare Heartful Star, owned by Jim Lewis of Davidsonville, to the Eastern Shore stallion, Horatius.
"Billy recognized that the same sort of cross produced Safely Kept," said Joan Boniface, referring to the Horatius-sired sprint champion. "We got a Safely Kept type of runner without a sprinter's body," she said, alluding to Oliver's Twist's lanky frame, which is the mark of a stayer.
In Chestertown, Charles and Cynthia McGinnes, who stand the 20-year-old Horatius, were feeling the reverberations from across the bay.
"We are breeding the horse to 48 mares and most of the people that breed to him don't have a lot of money," said Cynthia McGinnes. For years, Horatius has carried a breeding fee of $2,000 per mare.
"But I'd say at least five of them have called and told me what hope this gives them that they, too, can come up with an Oliver's Twist. That's what has been so special about Horatius. Whether his offspring are $5,000 claimers or stakes winners, they all try. And that's what Billy says sets Oliver's Twist apart. He might not be the fastest animal. But he has the desire to win."
While Oliver's Twist was resting yesterday, Boniface was working another stakes-class 3-year-old, Ops Smile, seven furlongs on the Bonita Farm turf course. On Saturday, he'll try to win the Jersey Derby at Garden State Park with the gray son of Caveat.
"He will win," Boniface predicted with the same sort of confidence he expressed all last week about Oliver's Twist's chances in the Preakness.
"One thing about Billy," said his father, Bill Sr., former racing editor of The Evening Sun for 45 years, "he's always good copy."