Standing in the winner's circle after the Private Terms Stakes, trainer Larry Murray said the one horse he wanted his Pickupspeed to avoid was Tim's Crossing.
Murray called the undefeated Tim's Crossing one of the best, maybe even the best, 3-year-old in the country.
Today, in the $200,000 Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico, the two promising Maryland-based horses will clash despite Murray's trepidation. He decided he had little choice except to run Pickupspeed, a gelded son of Broad Brush, against Tim's Crossing, a blazingly fast son of Valley Crossing.
"The option was going against Fusaichi Pegasus," Murray said. "I was more afraid of him."
Based at Laurel Park, Murray ventured to Aqueduct last weekend and watched as Fusaichi Pegasus toyed with a tough field in the Wood Memorial Stakes and finished easily with gas left in the tank. Murray was impressed.
"I expect Fusaichi Pegasus to gallop in the Derby and come to the Preakness the 2-to-5 favorite," Murray said.
If that's the case, horses contesting the Tesio may be waiting here as long shots. Of the nine Tesio entrants, three have won stakes races. And the trainers of those three say that, if their horses run well today, they will contemplate the Preakness May 20 at Pimlico.
The Kentucky Derby seems out of the question for these Tesio horses. That's probably just as well, since the Derby seems to be filling up with more horses than can squeeze into the 20 slots in the starting gate.
That would likely eliminate China Visit, Godolphin Racing's prime contender, who won a 1 116-mile trial race yesterday in Dubai. The other Godolphin hopeful, Chief Seattle, stumbled at the start and finished fourth.
On March 25, China Visit surged into the Derby picture by winning the $500,000 United Arab Emirates Derby. The sheiks who make up Godolphin Racing plan on shipping China Visit and Chief Seattle to Kentucky next week.
But if more than 20 horses are entered in the Derby, the field will be chosen based on earnings in graded stakes. China Visit has none.
The $325,000 Lexington Stakes today at Keeneland will likely produce even more Derby starters. Hades, Rollin With Nolan, Cocky, Commendable, Harlan Traveler, Ben the Man, Unshaded and Globalize will contest the 1 116-mile Lexington. This is the race Charismatic won last year on his way to victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
The Lexington and the $300,000 Lone Star Derby, another stakes for 3-year-olds, will be televised beginning at 5 p.m. today on ESPN2.
For Maryland fans of horses on the Triple Crown trail, the Tesio will have to do. A fine race with an intriguing field, the Tesio heads the festive Maryland Spring Challenge Day. Four stakes for Maryland-breds highlight the undercard.
The Tesio is the first race of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships, or MATCH, a six-month series of stakes for horses based in the region.
Tim's Crossing has been turning heads since his 5 1/2-length maiden blowout Jan. 27 at Laurel Park. Next, he won an allowance race by nearly a length and then romped by four lengths last month in the Goss Stryker Stakes for Maryland-breds. Those races were also at Laurel.
The Tesio marks his first venture away from his home track and, more important, his first assignment around two turns. Tim's Crossing has not raced farther than seven furlongs. The Tesio is a demanding 1 1/8 miles.
Trainer Jimmy Murphy said that he wanted to race Tim's Crossing in a two-turn allowance race two weeks ago, but that the race didn't fill.
Murphy said he is concerned about the colt's fitness for the distance. Plus, Tim's Crossing, a huge horse about 17 hands tall, has never raced in the mud.
"We're at a disadvantage never having raced two turns," Murphy said. "But we've got to run. We've got to find out."
Murray, the trainer of Pickupspeed, said one thing you don't need to wait to find out is who will burst into the Tesio lead.
"You can't keep him off the lead," Murray said of Tim's Crossing. "He's coming off those sprints. He'll be out there winging it.
"I think he's awesome. He's a phenomenal-looking horse. But he hasn't been two turns. Sometimes that separates the men from the boys."
Murray's Pickupspeed has run long -- five times, in fact. Four weeks ago in the 1 1/8-mile Private Terms Stakes at Laurel, Pickupspeed charged from far back for a three-length victory -- in the mud.
The talented Acres, a Maryland-bred son of Cryptoclearance and Etta, ships down from New York after a trouble-filled sixth-place finish in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.