Brigand won the 2012 City of Laurel Stakes at Laurel Park.

Brigand won the 2012 City of Laurel Stakes at Laurel Park.

Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club

Brigand Returns to Laurel for General George

Brigand and Il Villano are the top two morning-line choices for the General George H.

Trainer Bob Baffert and Brigand will go back to the Laurel Park well Feb. 18 in the $250,000 General George Handicap (gr. III).

Baffert saddled Brigand to victory in his first career start at Laurel Park in last year's City of Laurel Stakes. The Hall of Fame trainer will try to repeat that Laurel success when Brigand returns for the General George, a seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds and up that has attracted eight entries.

Kalem Shah's Brigand returns to the central Maryland track as the 9-5 morning-line favorite in the General George, where the 4-year-old son of Flatter  will try to secure his third straight stakes win and first career graded stakes victory. Brigand won the TurnoftheCentury Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack in his most recent try Jan. 20.

"He's doing great," Baffert said. "He is finally matured and running like his purchase price ($925,000 at the 2011 Ocala Breeders Sales Co. selected sale of 2-year-olds in training)."

Brigand, with five wins from 13 starts and earnings of $333,820, drew the rail and will be ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr.

Seven others are entered in the General George, which is the ninth race on the Presidents' Day card with a scheduled post time of 4:24 p.m. EST.

Awaiting Brigand will be Chuck Russo's Il Villano who hit the board in seven of nine stakes last year and won the Chick Lang at Pimlico Race Course and the Dave's Friend at Laurel. The Pollard's Vision  colt will try to secure his first graded stakes win in the General George, which will be his 4-year-old season debut. Il Vilano, who breaks from post 2 with Kendrick Carmouche aboard, is 3-1 on the morning line.

"He is doing well. He had a bullet work (Feb. 13, four furlongs in 47.6 seconds)," said trainer Susan Crowell. "He had a tremendous 3-year-old campaign and is a very honest horse. He has been a pleasure to work with. It makes you want to get up every morning to go to work."

Associate (4-1) ascended from the claiming ranks into a stakes competitor while in the Rick Dutrow barn, finishing third in the Malibu (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park to end 2011, third in the Bold Ruler (gr. III) at Belmont Park to end 2012, and off the board in the Hals Hope (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park to start 2013. Michelle Nevin takes over training for the son of Wando with Erick Rodriguez riding for the first time.

$250,000 General George Handicap (gr. III, race 9, approximate post time 4:24 p.m. EST) 3YOs & Up, 7 furlongs
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Brigand (NY), I. Ortiz Jr., 118, B. Baffert
2. Il Vilano (KY), K. Carmouche, 117, S. Crowell
3. Isn't He Perfect (KY), jockey TBA, 114, D. Shivmangal
4. Associate (KY), E. Rodriguez, 112, M. Nevin
5. Fiddlers Afleet (NY), H. Karamanos, 114, R. Rodriguez
6. Javerre (NJ), J. Acosta, 113, C. Lynch
7. Thunder Lord (KY), C. Marquez Jr. 112, J. Corrales
8. Broad Rule (MD), F. Boyce, 114, R. Small