06/07/2001 11:00PM

Beauty's in eye of the beholder at Timonium

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Primped and polished, more than 150 Maryland-bred yearlings are undergoing final preparations for one of the biggest days of their young lives - a trip to the Maryland Horse Breeders Association's annual yearling show - to be held Sunday, June 24 at the Maryland state fairgrounds in Timonium. The show has drawn its largest entry since 1990 and will be judged this year by trainer Linda Rice.

A fixture on the calendar for Maryland breeders for nearly 70 years, the yearling show has had a rich history since its inception in 1932. Peerless Hall of Fame trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons presided over its first 11 years and selected champions from the barns of such Maryland racing dignitaries as Alfred Vanderbilt, J.W.Y. Martin Jr., Sylvester Labrot Jr., and Major Goss L. Stryker.

In those early years, the show was held the day after the Preakness Stakes on the clubhouse lawn at Pimlico Race Course. The location was changed to the Timonium fairgrounds in 1960. Throughout its history, it wasn't uncommon for a Preakness trainer to judge the show the following day. In 1964, Horatio Luro won the Preakness with Northern Dancer and the next day pinned Harry Love's colt by Dedicate as champion of the yearling show.

Trainer Billy Turner, fresh off his classic success with Seattle Slew, handled the duties at the 1977 show, picking a colt owned and bred by Fendall Clagett as champion.

A total of 55 different people have served as judge, and historically trainers have handled the majority of assignments. Included in that number are 19 members of the Hall of Fame. The most recent to join the list was Bobby Frankel, the judge of last year's show.

Many of Maryland's most well-known breeders have supported the show since its inception. Tops among all exhibitors by number of champions was Alfred Vanderbilt, whose Sagamore Farm youngsters took the highest honors at seven shows. Vanderbilt's first champion was in 1934 when he won with a black colt by Flying Ebony named Black Toreador; his last was Native Dancer's daughter Dance in 1967. Vanderbilt class winners during those three decades included future stakes winners Foreign Affair, Sometime Thing, and Indian Love Call.

But winning at the show hasn't been a precursor for success at the track. Among those yearlings to compete in recent years who did not win their classes were Eclipse Award winners Safely Kept (shown in 1987) and Smart Angle (1978), millionaire Urbane (1993), Preakness runner-up Oliver's Twist (1993), and multiple track record holder Northern Wolf (1987).

A number of astute judges have found runners whose looks matched their racing ability. In 1961, Ed Christmas selected Stuart Janney Jr.'s colt Knocklofty, by Parnassus out of Bold Irish, as champion. Knocklofty went on to be a two-time stakes winner. Three years later, Janney exhibited another foal out of Bold Irish, a filly who placed second in her large class.

Shenanigans, stakes-placed at 2, became legendary as the dam of the immortal Ruffian.

Nick Zito chose a Polish Numbers filly in 1995 as his champion, and the filly named Earth to Jackie went on to win or place in eight stakes during her career. Danny Perlsweig selected Alden's Ambition as the champion of 1982. The filly earned $326,820 by winning six stakes and set a track record for six furlongs at Pimlico.

This year, yearlings entered include siblings to millionaire Val's Prince, graded winners K. O. Punch, Tookin Down, and Secret Thing, and stakes winners Perfect to a Tee, Shashobegon, Private Slip, and Flying Punch.

Nearly 70 stallions are represented, including first crop sires Awad, Ops Smile, Partner's Hero, Same Day Delivery, Storm Broker, Swear by Dixie, and Yarrow Brae. Not for Love leads all stallions by number of offspring entered, with 11. Counted in Not for Love's total is a full brother to La Salle Street, who was entered in the 1998 show. The following year, the colt sold for a world record-equalling $2 million as a 2-year-old.