LAUREL -- Jockey Joe Rocco rode two fillies who turned in exceptional victories at Laurel Race Course yesterday.
Rocco has 34 winning rides, eight fewer than leading jockey Edgar Prado, who has been sidelined by an injury.
Rocco's most lucrative ride was on McKilts, who stayed near the lead and won the $54,600 Anne Arundel Handicap. The most profitable mount may turn out to be 3-year-old Sooty Tern, who remained unbeaten with her second victory in an overnight allowance event worth $18,000.
McKilts is owned by Dan Agnew of Centralia, Wash., who was part-owner of the colt Desert Wine.
Agnew's horses race mostly on the West Coast with trainer Jerry Fanning. Because Agnew has horses at Santa Anita Park, winning trainer Meredith Bailes said after yesterday's triumph, "I don't know how long I'll have her [McKilts]."
McKilts is a Maryland-bred with front-running ability. She battled favored Dance Colony until midway through the final turn, and then, Rocco said, "She dragged me to the lead."
McKilts hadn't been changing leads to her advantage lately, which means that when she came out of the final turn, she continued to stride with her left front leg out first instead of switching to the right to avoid fatigue during the stretch run.
"Once she changed leads, she carried on," Rocco said.
McKilts reached the finish line four lengths ahead of Trumpet's Blare, who rallied mildly. Third was Secreto's Glory, trailed by Baltic Chill, Dance Colony and Wings of Silver.
As second choice, McKilts paid $6.40. Her time for 1 1/8 miles was 1 minute, 50 2/5 seconds, and she earned $32,760 for her third stakes victory.
Sooty Tern has not run in stakes company, but seems destined for such competition. She won her first start over 3-year-old maiden fillies on Oct. 26, and came back to win in allowance company against older fillies.
She is by Storm Bird from the mare Mississippi Mud and represents the best of owner Bayard Sharp's breeding program.
Sooty Tern seemed trapped during the stretch run, but surged between horses to draw away and win by 1 1/4 lengths over Silly Baeder.
"It may have looked like she was trapped in there, but I had enough horse to blow them away any time," Rocco said. "She could have gone to the front in the middle of the stretch and won."
Sooty Tern paid $5.80 as second choice.
Trainer Charlie Peoples is home in Delaware, recovering from a ruptured appendix, and Sharp is at his home nearby, recovering from a broken hip.
"I know she's got that good breeding," Peoples said by telephone. "I just don't know how much she can do. She's got a crooked leg that kept me from starting her until she was 3.
"Of course, I shouldn't ever be allowed to talk about horses with crooked legs. I looked at a yearling one time at the sales and made fun of him. I told the boss not to buy him, and he turned out to be Decathlon, a great horse of the 1950s."
Peoples said Sooty Tern is one of several of his fillies ready to run again, but he is not sure where they will see action.
Peoples also trains the colt Baron De Vaux, who is being rested until next spring.
* Joe De Francis, president of Laurel and Pimlico Race Course, said he still has not worked out his dates requests at both tracks for 1991, but is virtually certain to request that Laurel's summer meeting open on July 4.
This year, Laurel opened its summer meeting on June 14. De Francis is planning major revisions in the racing calendar, but will run the same number of dates at each track. Laurel has 162 racing days this year, and Pimlico had 102.