Fillies Vie for Maryland Juvenile Honors

With the 2004 season winding to a close this weekend, Marylanders will crown champions for both 2-year-old divisions with eight state-bred fillies having been drawn for Thursday's 1 1/16-mile Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship Stakes at Pimilico.

With a purse of $100,000 on the line, Fitzhugh's Take a Check has been installed as the overwhelming 4-5 morning line favorite. Trained by Richard Small, the daughter of Touch Gold drove to a 6 3/4-length win at the same distance at Pimlico in her last outing and has run credible seconds in two fall stakes contests over the course.

Bred by Robert Meyerhoff, the filly likes to be up near the front early and has stayed game through the end in her last four starts. She figures to be the one to beat with Jozbin Santana getting the first-time call for a break from gate 8.

Larry E. Knight Sr.'s Smoking Wise, the only stakes winner among the group, is the 9-2 second choice and contests from the 3 hole. Bred by Ryehill Farm, the daughter of Smoke Glacken is two-for-three lifetime, including a score in the Snow White Stakes Dec. 11 at Charles Town.

Smoking Wise has hit the board in all three of her starts and should stalk from a few lengths off the pace before making her run. A solid four-furlong work (49.80) Dec. 24 should lend her connections and potential backers some confidence. Luis Garcia will be aboard.

Also looking to upset is Skeedattle Associates' homebred Dixie Talking. The daughter of Dixieland Band was impressive in a three-length maiden win at first asking for trainer Robin Graham Dec. 8, and a similar work (:50.40) over the track the same day as Smoking Wise shows Graham's filly is ready as she attempts to stay unbeaten.

She and jockey Abel Castellano will break from the fourth spot from the rail.

Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship Stakes, 2-year-old fillies, restricted (state-bred), 1 1/1 miles, $100,000, 3:52 PM EDT.

PP -- Horse, jockey, odds

1 -- Forest Princess, Erick Rodriguez, 10-1
2 -- Hanalei Bay, Ryan Fogelsonger, 15-1
3 -- Smoking Wise, Luis Garcia, 9-2
4 -- Dixie Talking, Abel Castellano, 5-1
5 -- Cape Cosmo, Steve Hamilton, 5-1
6 -- Unbridled Valay, Christian Olmo, 30-1
7 -- Sweetsoutherndessa, 15-1
8 -- Take a Check, Jozbin Santana, 4-5