When Gators N Bears enters the gate for Saturday's $200,000 Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) at Pimlico Race Course, he'll be doing more than defending his 2004 Maryland Breeders' Cup title. He'll be looking for his first win of the year against an evenly matched field of eight runners in the six-furlong race.Last year, Gators N Bears won the Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths over Highway Prospector, stopping the clock at 1:10.84. He closed 2004 with three wins, all in stakes company, from eight starts.In three starts on the year, the 5-year-old son of Stormy Atlantic has come close to winner's circle but is yet to visit. He has a pair of second-place finishes and one-third-place effort, all against stakes company, from three starts on the year. Gators N Bears most recently finished second, three-quarters of a length behind recently retired stakes winner Clock Stopper in the seven-furlong Commonwealth Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Keeneland.Trained by Leo S. Nechamkin, Gators N Bears is top weighted at 119 pounds, including jockey Charles Lopez. The pair will break from gate six.Giving Gators N Bears a run for his money will be Primary Suspect, who most recently finished a disappointing sixth, beaten 11 1/4 lengths, in the seven-furlong Carter Handicap (gr. I). The Carter followed an impressive 1 1/4-length score in the six-furlong Toboggan Handicap (gr. III).A homebred son of Hennessy, Primary Suspect is trained by Mark Hennig for Lee Lewis. Jockey Jerry Bailey returns to the saddle aboard Primary Suspect, carrying 115 pounds. The pair will break from gate four.
Another runner not to count out is the D. Wayne Lukas-trained With Distinction. The dark bay or brown son of Storm Cat is cutting back in distance after a disappointing outing in the 8 1/2-furlong Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs. Before that, the 4-year-old won an allowance race at Keeneland, traveling 6 1/2 furlongs.The Steve Asmussen-trained Bwana Charlie was expected to start in the Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap, but was not entered after Asmussen's barn was one of three barns at Churchill Downs placed under quarantine due to an outbreak of equine herpes at the Louisville track. The field for Saturday's $200,000 Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) includes: 1-- Take Achance On Me (Rafael Bejarano, 114) 2-- Sir Oscar (Cornelio Velasquez, 113) 3-- With Distinction (Gary Stevens, 111) 4-- Primary Suspect (Jerry Bailey, 115) 5-- Excellent Band (Mike Smith, 113) 6-- Gators N Bears (Charles Lopez, 119) 7-- Always Noble (Jeremy Rose, 113) 8-- Willy o'the Valley (Edgar Prado, 113)