LAUREL, MD. 08-20-09---William Backer’s Blind Date will start as the strong favorite in Saturday’s $50,000 Pearl Necklace Stakes at Laurel Park. Rosemary Homeister hopes to guide the accomplished filly to her fourth stakes win during her sophomore campaign and set her up for a start on Jim McKay Maryland Million day, September 26.

The Pearl Necklace, a 1-1/16th mile test on the grass restricted to Maryland-bred 3-year-olds, has attracted nine runners with Blind Date is the 7-5 favorite.

A Not For Love offspring trained by Hamilton Smith at Laurel, Blind Date is five-for-seven lifetime, including wins in Pimlico’s Hookedonthefeelin’ (April 18) and Hilltop Stakes (May 15) and Colonial Downs’ Grade III Virginia Oaks (July 18), all on the turf. Her only time off the board was a seventh place finish in the Grade III Boiling Springs Stakes at Monmouth Park on June 27.

“We are very pleased with her progress,” said Smith. “We are still confused about what happened at Monmouth but she ran well at Colonial. Everything looks good on our front. We expect her to run good.”

Blind Date prepped for the Pearl Necklace with a bullet half-mile work Saturday, stopping the clock at 47 seconds, the fastest of 45 works at the distance.

“That was a little quicker than I wanted but she gets over the ground easy,” added Smith. “But she came out of the work fine and is really maturing. Last year in the Maryland Million Lassie (where she finished third), she was a little timid going between horses. But in her last start, Kent (jockey Kent Desormeaux) had her way back and he came in-between horses around the turn so I think she is over the timidness.”

Smith indicated his star will be nominated to multiple races on the Maryland Million card, including the Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on the dirt at one mile and the Ladies for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on the turf.

“We think she can run as well on the dirt as the turf,” said Smith, who has three Maryland Million victories on his resume. “We’ll cross enter in several races.”

Ravenous (5-2) carries Rose Napravnik and has won two in a row on the turf, her maiden win and an optional claiming score. Richard Small trains the daughter of Bowman’s Band, who produced a bullet five-furlong work (1:03) on the grass August 12.

Southern Charmer, one of three fillies listed at 8-1 on the morning line, ships from New York after one try on the grass in eight starts. That was a closing third at Belmont Park in July. Now Ryan Fogelsonger will try her for the first time for trainer Seth Benzel. Hogan Beach (8-1), a two-time winner on the turf at Delaware Park (once through disqualification), will represent Michael Matz and carry Luis Garcia. Shadow Lane (8-1) broke her maiden on the grass at Colonial Downs and carries Geovany Garcia for trainer Kevin Boniface.

Rounding out the field are Five Diamonds (10-1), Love’s Blush (15-1), Royal World (20-1) and Truck Ride (20-1).

In addition to the 10-race card, ten jockeys will take part in a charity event between the fourth and fifth races. The “Rody Max Jockey Dash” will benefit the Maryland Horsemen’s Assistance Fund. The participants will bounce 100 feet down the main track on inflated, hippity-hop horses.

Saturday also features Laurel’s Picnic at the Park, fun for the whole family which can be enjoyed on the racetrack apron. Rides, games, a petting zoo, face painting, a barn area, an Anne Arundel County Fire Department exhibit, crafts and picnic fare are on the bill.