04/26/2002 12:00AM

Include looks as good as ever in return


Like a tightly paced adventure novel, the Maryland Spring Challenge Day last Saturday at Pimlico moved from one plot line to another before reaching its denouement with a nine-length victory by 2001 Maryland-bred Horse of the Year Include, making his season's debut in the $100,000 Jennings Handicap.

Consisting of four races for statebreds, plus the unrestricted $100,000 Federico Tesio Stakes, which carried a $25,000 purse supplement for Maryland-breds, the program showcased two homebreds, and two runners bought as yearlings - one a lowly $5,000 Timonium offering, the other a $150,000 Saratoga prize. Two of the winners were sired by Press Card, a Fappiano stallion banished three years ago from one of Maryland's leading stud farms, Country Life, and now standing in Australia.

Magic Weisner, last year's champion Maryland-bred 2-year-old male seeking to cast his magic over five stakes wins in a row, fell two lengths short and finished second in the Tesio, a race that often has bolstered the hopes of local horses aiming for the Preakness. But Tesio winner Smoked Em, though foaled in Kentucky and based in New York, was not devoid of Maryland ties.

He is by hot young sire Smoke Glacken, Maryland stallion Two Punch's son who was the 1997 Eclipse Award-winning sprinter and Maryland-bred Horse of the Year.

The action got under way with the $75,000 Caesar's Wish Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, in which Madame X Ski lived up to her odds-on favoritism with a hard-fought neck victory over Tamayo. Sold by her breeders Tom and Chris Bowman and Victor Ives for $150,000 at the 2000 Saratoga Yearling sale, Madame X Ski (by Polish Numbers) is a full sister to 1998 Maryland-bred Horse of the Year Tenski, a Grade 1 winner of $524,710.

Campaigned by her Saratoga buyers John and Susan Moore, and trained in New York by James Jerkens, Madame X Ski has now earned $144,210 from eight career starts.

Thrilling as it has been for Bowman and Ives to watch the exploits of Tenski, whom they sold privately as a weanling, and now Madame X Ski, there is a solemn finality behind it all. The dam of the two fillies, Miss Rudy T. (by Lord Gaylord), died unexpectedly in the field when Madame X Ski was still at her side in the summer of 1999. Miss Rudy T. was acquired by the Bowmans and Ives for $1,300 at the 1993 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic February Mixed sale.

The $60,000 Star de Naskra Stakes for 3-year-olds featured a gritty one-length triumph by No Pressure, a Press Card gelding bred by Middleburg, Va., horsewoman Barbara Cross Graham, who has bred several other top-achieving Maryland-breds from this same family, including 2000 Maryland-bred Horse of the Year Gin Talking and two-time Maryland Million Classic winner Algar.

No Pressure was making just his fourth career start, and his first in stakes company. He races for Lou Ulman, chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission, and is trained by Dale Capuano, who purchased him for $5,000 at the 2000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Eastern Fall Yearling sale.

The $100,000 Geisha Handicap attracted a strong field of fillies and mares, three of them multiple stakes winners - namely, Winter Leaf, Your Out (2000 champion Maryland-bred 2-year-old filly), and Case of the Blues. But Press Card's daughter Shiny Sheet, moving rapidly up the ranks following a 16 1/2-length maiden special weight triumph on March 6 at Laurel, seized the opportunity for her third consecutive victory in her first stakes attempt.

Shiny Sheet (out of Miss Otis, by One For All) carried the colors of her breeders Henry and Sheila Rathbun of Middleburg, Va., who have owned four earlier generations of her family. She is trained by Charles Hadry.

Include's sterling performance in the Jennings Handicap brought back fond memories of last year, when the Robert E. Meyerhoff homebred used his Jennings triumph as a springboard to victories in the Grade 1 Pimlico Special and Grade 2 Massachusetts Handicap.

Include, a son of the mighty Maryland-bred Broad Brush, is being primed by trainer Bud Delp for another assault on the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic. The Jennings boosted Include's career earnings to $1,592,560.