Ah Day isn't the early line favorite for today's $300,000 Grade II General George Breeders' Cup Handicap at Laurel Park, but he's first in the heart of King Leatherbury, his breeder, owner and trainer.
"As good as my horse is right now," said Leatherbury, who is third on the all-time wins list with 6,180 career victories, "I'm not afraid of anybody - as long as I run my race."
Ah Day, a 4-year-old by Malibu Moon who has won seven stakes races, including last month's Fire Plug Stakes in impressive fashion, faces strong competition today with the high-achieving Silver Wagon rolling in from New York.
The local star will also be without his usual rider Mario Pino, who will ride Kentucky Derby prospect Hard Spun in the $250,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Ark., today.
"I feel bad that I can't ride him," Pino said of Ah Day. "But Hard Spun is the best young horse I have ever been on. Just to have the opportunity to ride a horse that talented has me excited."
Pino left for Arkansas after riding at Laurel Park yesterday, with his own hard task ahead of him. Hard Spun drew the No. 9 post in the nine-horse field.
"It's the one spot I wanted to avoid," Pino said. "But I think if he's as good as I think he is, he can overcome the post. I'm not predicting, because things happen, but with his tactical speed, I think he can beat any horse."
Still, Pino said that while many observers believe Hard Spun has to win the Southwest to stay on track for the Derby, he doesn't.
"There are a lot of horses who win the Derby that aren't undefeated," Pino said. "I think if he runs a good race, wherever he finishes, the important thing is that he just mature to get to that [Derby] level."
Riding Ah Day will be Ryan Fogelsonger, who rode Ah Day in three of his early wins.
"Pino is on a really nice 3-year-old and he could be the real deal, so I am lucky to be on Ah Day in this spot," Fogelsonger said. "I know this horse very well and worked him earlier this week and he has grown up a lot. In the Fire Plug I was on Crafty Schemer and turning for home I thought we were home free when Ah Day just ran by us. This is a tough test. He's running against some nice horses in this spot ... but [seven furlongs] is probably Ah Day's best distance and he is still improving."
Silver Wagon, a 6-year-old trained by Richard Dutrow Jr. and entered here by Tony Dutrow, who is handling his brother's horses while Richard Dutrow serves a 14-day suspension in New York, is the 6-5 morning line favorite and will be ridden by Edgar Prado.
The son of Wagon Limit has two graded stakes wins, including the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga as a 2-year-old and the Grade III Sport Page Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct at the end of last season.
Also presenting a challenge is Will He Shine (9-2), ridden by Kent Desormeaux. Both Desormeaux and Prado have victories in the General George, Desormeaux in 1988 aboard Private Terms and Prado in 2004 on Well Fancied, who also was trained by Richard Dutrow.
"Ah Day will have to pick it up to beat tougher horses," Pino said. "But if he runs the same race that he did in the Fire Plug, he will be tough."
And Leatherbury thinks this is the perfect spot for Ah Day to show off. "It looks ideal - right here on our home grounds," he said. "The perfect distance. Everything looks in our favor."