New York-based 6-year-old gelding Digger and the late bloomer Greenspring, both of whom are extremely fond of Laurel Park, will clash for the first time in Monday's Grade 2 General George Handicap.
The $150,000, seven-furlong General George tops a special President's Day holiday card that includes the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap and two other stakes.
Digger, part of a coupled Repole Stable entry with The Roundhouse, won three stakes in Maryland as a 3-year-old and has been at least second in 9 of 11 starts at Laurel. He was making his first start at the central Maryland track in two years when he captured the six-furlong Fire Plug on Jan. 16.
Although he drew off by nearly four lengths, post-race tests revealed Digger tested positive for a banned non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. An investigation that could result in his disqualification has yet to be completed.
Digger, a stakes winner in each of his last two starts, indicated he has retained his sharpness by working five furlongs in 1:00.60 on Tuesday at Belmont Park. The work was the best of 36 at the distance.
"It was a perfect work to get some extra fitness in him," said trainer Bruce Brown.
Digger will break from the rail under his regular rider, Mike Luzzi.
"It is definitely a tougher race than the last one but I love the post," Brown said. "Speed is the name of his game and he certainly loves Laurel."
Digger's stiffest challenge should come from Greenspring, a 5-year-old who has gone 5 for 7 since launching his career last June, including a 2-for-2 record at Laurel. He will be cutting back slightly in distance after earning a career-best 101 Beyer Speed Figure for a six-length romp in the one-mile Native Dancer on Jan. 2.
Trainer Chris Grove said his main concern is that Greenspring missed a scheduled work for the General George because of winter weather.
"We had planned on a five-eighths work this past Monday but we were unable to train because of the snow," Grove said.
Others who merit respect include No Advantage, winner of the Grade 3 William Schaefer last May; Malibu Kid, third in last year's General George; and the 7-year-old Ah Day, who has recorded 9 of his 17 lifetime wins at Laurel.